Journalists and Twitter

Someone on Mastodon had a link to an article, “Journalists (And Others) Should Leave Twitter. Here’s How They Can Get Started,” with an interesting (and valid) pull quote:

“This should have been a pivotal moment in media history — an inflection point when journalists realized how dangerous it is to put their fates in the hands of people who claim to revere free speech but use their power to control it…thanks to a combination of journalistic cowardice, inertia and calculation, business as usual prevailed.”

The article keeps its hands wrung over journalists – of all principled people – obeying the rules about what is acceptable on Twitter now:

Beyond that, thanks to a combination of journalistic cowardice, inertia and calculation, business as usual prevailed. Today, some journalists remain banned, or restricted. The journalists whose accounts were fully restored are back to tweeting, though some remain banned and/or restricted. Their organizations never stopped using the platform even when their employees were being restricted.

My thought is: why not? Why would these fine upstanding people care now? The only thing that’s changed is the nameplate of their corporate master: it went from a proxy for the FBI to Elon Musk, and honestly, the slop they feed upon should be tasting about the same as it did.

What’s new here, after all? If they posted something against the acceptable narrative two years ago, they’d have been muted and banned, if not cancelled. They knew it. So they stuck to what the egregore told them to say, in the way they were supposed to say it (“add a little individuality, please, so the rest of the egregore thinks you’re a rebel, thank you – now get a tattoo so you’ll be unique just like everyone else!”).

Now there’s a new lord and master; maybe it’s a little less of an egregore than it was (one thing I have to give credit to Musk for is not being as susceptible to groupthink as so many seem to want to be.) But it’s just a different master, with slightly different rules, and apparently less locked-down than what the old masters preferred; Musk actually allows people I don’t like to say things I don’t like! How dare he!

And this is supposed to be more restrictive? Because now the things you can and cannot say are different? Journalists should have howled when their narratives were being tuned for them, no matter whether their careers benefitted or not. The tuning is the problem, not who did it or what the tuning’s results were.

Journalists who were fine with the FBI dictating their content but not Musk… I get it, I empathize, but let’s be real here: those aren’t journalists any more. They’re shills. They’re paid spokesmen, soulless and vain, at this point, no matter what they tell themselves, no matter how much gravitas they can muster as they issue their sales pitches for The Party.

It doesn’t matter what side they’re on. They should be celebrating the cacophany. Sure, they might not like the restrictions, but … so what? The restrictions aren’t new. They’re just different. They’re protesting the changing of their muzzle, when what they should have been doing was protesting the existence of a muzzle at all.

And most of them chose to strap their yokes on, willingly.

Mastodon Vs Twitter

I don’t like Twitter all that much. I find that I struggle massively to write in 250-character bites; I simply hate the idea of boiling my thought patterns down to such tiny blocks, and it’s just unpleasant to me. I don’t think reality is so simple that it can be compressed like that.

But the hatred and resentment Twitter gets these days, now that Elon Musk is affecting it, is ridiculous.

Twitter’s problem was that it was popular… and manipulatable. And it was manipulated, and used to manipulate its users. I may not like writing in tiny chunks like Twitter requires, but my fellow humans seem to appreciate reading in tiny chunks like you’d find on Twitter.

And that made it a fine candidate for our upstanding law enforcement agencies (sarcasm intended) to weigh in on what was allowable discourse, so things that might have “undesirable outcomes” could be filtered out at the behest of our government, and voices that said “unpleasant things” could finally be silenced.

Twitter had become an echo chamber.

Echo chambers are bad.

When Elon Musk bought Twitter, in my opinion he not only rocked the boat (a bad thing, and a stupid thing) but he also took steps to right the ship, by removing a lot of the limits that made it an explicit and deliberate echo chamber for a … not a particular view, but I think it’s safe to say that Twitter was canted “Democrat.”

So removing the bans had a natural effect of restoring more “red tribe” voices than “blue tribe” voices, because that’s how math works. If you eliminate 50 voices from one side and five voices from the other, and restore ninety percent of the voices that were banned, you get 45 red tribe voices restored, and four (or five) blue tribe voices – the red tribe gets forty more voices restored, how COULD they be so fascist?

And if you’re of the opinion that this is somehow unfair, that’s fine, you do you, but when I was watching from the fence, that’s the impression I got, and I’ve seen no credible claims that suggest that those numbers weren’t representative. (They are made up, and the ratio may be better or worse. If you want to quibble about details, go for it, but the important claim is “more red tribe voices were quelled than blue tribe voices, so any restoration is going to look more red than blue.”)

Then you have the “but all the fascists!” claims, which are … well… look, I’m Jewish. My family history with fascists is “unpleasant” at best. I’m also a libertarian – not by party, I’m an Independent, but I lean heavily to libertarian ideals, and fascists hold ideals that I very much oppose on political grounds.

The people I see who are acting like fascists are the ones who insist on only their views being propagated, the ones who want state control of public discourse and the engines of the economy. From where I sit, if I’m being perfectly honest, the ones who told Twitter what was allowed in the common forum, and the ones protesting the most about non-approved voices on Twitter, and the ones who insist that everyone obey, obey, obey before they can enter the common forum… those are acting a lot more like fascists than the people being restored on Twitter now.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t literal Nazis or literal fascists being restored. Honestly, they probably are. I haven’t seen them or encountered them, for some strange reason… I mean, if they were infecting everything like the claims have made it sound, I’d have seen more from them, because I’m a natural target for them.

But I’ve seen nothing from them. I’ve seen a lot of crying about them, but the volume of the protest far outweighs the threat of the subject of those protests.

And finally we get to Mastodon.

I actually am enjoying Mastodon, on the whole; I still resent the 500 character limit on posts (I refuse to call them “toots”) and I understand there’s a way to change that limit, but I don’t know it. (And honestly, I wouldn’t apply it the way I’d like to, because the Mastodon convention is 500, and to go outside the lines overmuch is frowned upon and should be.)

But Mastodon is not better than Twitter in any way except in that you have a possibility of running your own server, should you choose.

That’s it. There’s the benefit. You can control your own data more with Mastodon than you can with Twitter.

You’re not protected from fascists – after all, they can run their own Mastodon instances and join the Fediverse just like you can. You can filter them out, just like you always could on Twitter. But unlike Twitter, there’s no authority that can potentially filter out illegal or threatening speech, because if you own your own voice on Mastodon, they own their own voices on Mastodon, and while they can do nothing about your voice, you can do nothing about their voices besides, you know, not listen.

Which is a feature Twitter offered you all along, and still does.

Are you “better off” on Mastodon? Well, it depends on whether owning your own voice and data is important to you or not. If you’re on Mastodon and you use one of the “big instances,” well, no, you’re not “better off” at all. You’re just in a different forum. You’re relying on someone else’s data processing power and moderation effort, and they control the voices, and you’re trusting them just like you used to trust Twitter, except chances are strong that your admins are some poor schlubs (like me) who just decided to run the ActivityPub host software.

Sure, they can boot the Nazis and not federate instance data, I guess, if you’re unwilling to filter out or block specific users yourself, but … again, this is no different than Twitter, except there’s no generalized firehose of common data in the first place.

And that firehose is the value of Twitter. With Twitter, you have a chance to say something that everyone reads. (It’s unlikely, but possible.) If you can say something so succinctly and worthwhile, you have the chance to be exposed to everyone.

If you can somehow come up with the “golden rule” that outdoes the actual golden rule, Twitter’s a workable place to disseminate it.

Unlike Mastodon, where your “platinum rule” (yes, I know, such rules have already been offered, although I find them insufficient) goes to only those Mastodon instances that federate your content or to those users who follow you.

Other users can boost your wisdom, of course, which is how the propagation occurs on Mastodon, and you might indeed change the world, but it’s more effort than Twitter requires. If history’s shown us anything, it’s that low-effort wins.

Mastodon’s propagation isn’t “high effort,” but it’s “higher effort” than Twitter, and human psychology and group dynamics make it really difficult for people to boost things neutrally; if I say something that makes the world a better place, unless you agree with me politically or whatever, you’re less likely to boost what I say, regardless of the value of what I offer.

If we’re aligned and you know it, you’re going to say “ooo my tribe has wisdom, let’s boost that” – but if I say I am independent and not interested in being a slave to your tribe’s dynamics (something I said early on in this post, if you read back or remember) then your natural inclination is to refuse to boost whatever I say, because it doesn’t aid your tribe’s perception.

And if what I say helps the “other tribe” too – then you’re likely to try to mute what I say, because defeating the other tribe is more important than anything else. That’s what being part of a limited tribe does to you. It’s comforting, because you get to look at a set of people and say, well, “there’s my people” – but it also means you look at everyone else and say “there are my people’s enemies, because they’re not my people.”

I can say with great intent that I look at humanity as “my people.” There are subsets with which I have greater affinity, to be sure, but I despise the political alignments that define the tribes, and I have friends among Democrats, Republicans, socialists, even a few communists, and probably a few fascists too, although I can’t name any fascists among my friends offhand.

(I’ve tried to figure out which of my friends are fascists; the closest I’ve come are people who would consider themselves socialists and populists, and I just can’t quite decide that they’re actually fascists. The analysis just doesn’t quite work out, and they’d also be highly offended at the consideration. C’est la vie. My conclusion is that actual fascists are really rare and don’t deserve the outsized attention they get.)

So: Mastodon versus Twitter is .. the wrong battle. It’s not “Mastodon versus Twitter.”

It’s “who controls your data,” and choosing Mastodon should mean that you’re setting up your Mastodon identity among a small like-minded group that is self-funded, not joining one of the overwhelmed “big instances.”

Those big instances are no better than Twitter for you, they’re just hammering someone else’s finances and relying on someone else’s effort, and that “someone else” doesn’t owe you anything. (Actually, you should fund your instance if you’re not running your own. Be a mensch. And hopefully my use of Yiddish didn’t offend you. If it did… let me know. Guess why I’d want to know.)

I’m happier on Mastodon than on Twitter, not only because of the 500 character post limit, but because I control my own data on my instance; I’ve posted more on Mastodon than I think I’ve posted on Twitter throughout its entire history. (I have not validated this claim, but I think it’s pretty solid. My “use” of Twitter for years has been limited to WordPress posting blog links to Twitter when I post new blog entries. In fact, I think this blog post will get posted on Twitter automagically as well.)

And to complain about the changes at Twitter? Shoot, no. Long-term, I think they’re better for human discourse than worse; I may not approve of the methodology, as Elon Musk is acting very reactively, but I also suspect he’s doing that to draw lines in the sand for the bots he’s trying to remove. But the changes, overall: I want more, not less. Bring it on, Twitter.

I’ll watch from my Mastodon instance.

Outrage on Social Media articles; State of the Union

Things I’m thinking about, after switching back to a list-based list of thoughts because Gutenberg headers annoy me:

  • Gutenberg headers annoy me. I’m thinking of switching back to my comfortable editing process where I’m not constantly griping about my editor. It’s a flow thing.
  • Good article from Medium, paywalled (so if you don’t have a Medium account that you pay for – it’s $5/month – you may have to open this in a private window): The Power of Not Retweeting. Both the article and the subject are recommended. It’s very easy to be outraged by something that lacks context, and the context might make all the difference in how you actually react – but by the time you get context, it’s too late, you’ve committed your reaction to history and told all your friends.
  • Another excellent Medium article, this time from the New York Times’ Medium account: This Is Your Brain Off Facebook. It’s a little ironic that the NYT published this, given how manipulative they are for their readers… but the king of manipulation is still CNN in my opinion. Those guys should be ashamed. Their editors should be doubly ashamed.
  • I did not watch the State of the Union, but having people tell me that I shouldn’t watch it as a form of protest annoyed me and tempted me to endure the farce anyway. I want our politicians to love country over party, and that’s… not what we have right now.
  • Why didn’t I want to watch the State of the Union? Lots of reasons:
    • It’s Trump. His mode of speaking annoys me greatly. His inability to stay on topic annoys me. His stupid self-propping annoys me. I used to think George W. Bush wasn’t a particularly effective speaker because he always seemed to be searching for words – and now I find that I’d far prefer a President who actually searched for the right words to one who blathers out whatever foolish crap crosses his brain at any given time.
    • Do I need another reason? Oh, yeah.
    • The endless politicization of everything, and the seeming need to turn everything into a protest. I’m all for protesting police brutality, but sometimes a football game (or a State of the Union address) is … just a football game, and the protests don’t really make a difference besides signalling.
    • Circling back: I don’t trust Trump… or his opponents. They both lie. They both choose truths based on what plays to their bases. What’s funny is that Trump told us what he’d do in his campaign… and he’s actually held to that pretty strongly, for better or for worse. That’s somewhat commendable. His political opponents are changing their long-held opinions on lots of things just so they can oppose Trump – I’ve said before that he should just start echoing their campaign positions just to force them to change stances.
    • This is a lot less relevant of a list than I thought it might be.
    • Every State of the Union I’ve ever watched has bored me! There, there’s my best reason right there.


I was thinking fairly shallow thoughts about perception this morning, in the context of an old friend and how our relationship has changed over the years, and a pattern occurred to me about how I see people. I see individuals as a sort of web of relationships to other people and concepts, such that every strand connects to a concept or person with an indicator of how strong a connection that strand represents.

For example, imagine a person, Sam. Sam might play guitar and like Star Trek; I might know him from a job I had a few years ago. I see Sam as a node, more or less (well, a person, but I see him in terms of graph theory because that’s what I do), with edges connected to guitar, Star Trek, and that job.

Normally an individual with whom I’m familiar has a large network of such attributes: hair color, eye color (if I notice, I guess), sports preferences and team preferences, religious affiliation and dedication, political views, willingness to share those views, and so forth.

There are a few people that I know for whom such networks are really, really small, maybe three or four attributes, and I say that I “know” them in the loosest possible sense: I barely know these people at all. I might recognize their names; I might associate them with a single issue. That’s okay; that’s a person I recognize lightly, and it only says that our interactions were mostly insignificant.

There are others, however, for whom that’s not the case. That’s what got me thinking about the way I see people.

Lately, it’s been really easy for people to fixate on specific issues: “Donald Trump is the worst President ever,” “police are pigs,” “gun control now,” “free Puerto Rico,” and so forth and so on. I’m cool with that, although I don’t especially like it; all of these things can be real issues, and some of them I agree with to varying degrees, but I don’t like the fixation nor the hysteria.

The hysteria is … really awful. It’s distorting, in fact.

There are people for whom my networks of association, the way I see them, have become broken. There are people for whom I used to have dozens of associations in my head – the relationships – and now I see them and the association is dominated by their hysteria over a single issue.

They become dehumanized in my head. They’re no longer Sam, but “Sam-who-hates-Donald-Trump.” The hatred and hysteria – which, again, aren’t necessarily undeserved – become their dominant attribute, and they lose something in the translation.

I have to stop trying to pay attention to those people. Sam – who is, by the way, entirely fictitious – is someone whom I would have to unfollow or ignore. My RSS reader would no longer follow his feeds; I’d unsubscribe from his mailing lists, if any. Whatever the requirements would be to isolate myself from him, that’s what I’d do.

It’s not that I would despise our poor fake example, Sam. I wouldn’t. I recognize that Sam’s humanity is not actually impacted by my perception. With that said, a single-issue relationship like that – someone who is so strongly associated with a single issue that I don’t recognize them without that issue being dominant – isn’t typically helpful.

And even there, there are caveats. There are single-issue relationships that aren’t dominated by hysteria; some are just strongly held beliefs that are positive in nature. (“I know this person because they are associated with this charitable cause.”)

I guess that the cut-off for me is based in negative expressions.

So whose fault is it? Is it Sam’s, or mine?

I don’t know. It’s easy for me to blame the Other; it’s Sam’s fault, not mine, right? But it also might be that I haven’t reached out to Sam in such a way that I see other, more positive attributes. But maybe that’s because I don’t have the time, or Sam doesn’t respond in ways that don’t reinforce the negative association.

Like I say, I don’t know.

It actually pains me to stop seeing people in the full glow of their humanity; we’re all human, we all need that association to remain human. Ceasing to interact with someone, even when the level of interaction isn’t very high, hurts both of us.

But sometimes it’s necessary.

And if you’re wondering, the initial thought that started all of this was about my thumb injury last year, and what I’d have done had the doctors recommended amputation.