Two Minutes Hate, Twitter Edition

Let's take a break for a minor rant about shitty engineering and bad company philosophies.

Jack Dorsey has time to shop for slim-cut "Stay Woke" shirts but apparently it was a low priority problem to learn what abuse on Twitter looked like and filter it out. Twitter-the-company is made up of people that have consistently made poor, self-serving decisions while patting themselves on the back for making the world more connected. Well, fuck you all. You gluttons helped put us all here and now suddenly you might come up with an algorithm to spot Nazis? Here's an idea to put on your fucking Trello board: Look for avatars with swastikas on day one. Take day two off to recover from your code bash hangover. Day three you can look for accounts that mostly post negative sentiments (using a Python library that's five years old) and then map their connections to find another Nazi pool-party. On day four, take another break. You deserve a rest for waiting a decade to do even the smallest amount of engineering work to make the world better. Day five might be busy while your executives are explaining to congress why you actively assisted a foreign government to spread disinformation during the US election. Also, enjoy your weekend you fucks. [...]

Let's put aside the Nazis, and Russian trolls, and the bigots, and the fake news mongers. That's a hell of a start to a thought experiment, but let's pretend we don't care about those terrible things. The last year has been better for me without Twitter. I'm much less distracted by meaningless information. I spend more time talking to my family. I've focused on actual friends that I want to consciously cultivate.

I once thought that Twitter was terrific for staying up on current affairs and staying plugged into the news. I now realize that just isn't true. Twitter is mostly useless garbage. Anything with real meaning and value will distill up to other sources. By relying on Twitter as an information feed, I asked for a planet of lazy reactionaries to tell me what I should think is important. Now, instead of using Twitter, I read actual journalism. The first thing I read in depth was about Richard Nixon. This helped me to understand just how bad a terrible president like Trump could be. While that didn't help me cope (because, Nixon was a terrible disgusting person and we are all still suffering from his bullshit) it did teach me something real instead of someone's theory about meaningless garbage.

If you are a Twitter user, answer this. Keep it to yourself, but try to be honest. What valuable thing have you learned from Twitter in the past 48 hours? Was it about an Apple product or something about some tech startup not liking poor people on their commuter buses? Did you take action on the information? I'm not going to judge you, but I will tell you that in my experience what Twitter gave me was almost never valuable and it certainly came to the exclusion of actual joy.

So here I am, 12 months later. I'm still saying "Fuck you Twitter" and I mean it more than I did in 2016. Today we have real data to show the malevolence of Dorsey, Williams, and the cadre of people that make up their company. My life is better without Twitter, but unfortunately Twitter still has an effect on my life. It's still a malignant force and I think about its consequences every morning like it's November 9th 2016.

Twitter Is Literally a White Supremacist Website. For its entire life, it has ignored mountains of racism (and every other form of abuse), because to kick off all the Nazis and hysterical racists would lower its engagement statistics in the short term.

They don't just let people stay on the platform though, they verify tons of racists. The "verification system" has never really been just about verifying that people are using their real identity, but has always been about giving a special status to interesting/special people. That's why Twitter stripped Milo Yhateverhisnameis of his verification as a punishment, and why you can't just get verified by proving to them that you are posting under your real identity. Verified users also get special features added to their accounts. [...]

I'm not really an expert on white supremacy, but I know it's a system. As an example, my understanding is basically that if a restaurant opens up, and then half its customers are neo-Nazis, and they constantly yell the n-word at the other customers, and the restaurant refuses to do anything about it, and then also the restaurant has some sort of special status system like "best customer club" and they give that to a bunch of the neo-nazis, seems like you might actually say that was a white supremacist restaurant. Seems about right I think, right? So that's why I say that Twitter is literally a white supremacist website, and everyone who makes any decisions there, especially Jack Dorsey, is a white supremacist. I'm sure he's a nice guy, and I know he loves tweeting about rap music and stuff, but the way it works is that actually, he's a huge white supremacist, because he literally controls an entire system and refuses to fix all the racist shit.

Okay, so enough about the background, back to the news: White supremacist social networking site Twitter is going to let some people do 280 character tweets.

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12 Responses:

  1. tfb says:

    Twitter is mostly useless garbage.

    mostly?

  2. William says:

    I think this has a lot of merit. I certainly have a lot of criticisms of both Twitter the product and Twitter the company. But I think Gabe goes too far here:

    > What valuable thing have you learned from Twitter in the past 48 hours? [...] what Twitter gave me was almost never valuable [...]

    That depends a lot on how you use it. What I get out of it is perspectives I would not see in the "actual journalism" he celebrates (which I also read). Today I've seen a number of women giving their takes on Louis CK's non-apology. They spotted things I would have missed; I definitely learned some things. Yesterday I saw more detail on the Roy Moore stuff, including some useful comments on his opponent and the state of the race, and some shocking material from his supporters. That inspired me to donate to Moore's opponent and encourage others to do the same.

    Little of that was pleasant; my life would certainly be more comfortable if I relaxed back into my comfortable white-guy-in-tech bubble. But comfort isn't the only thing I want.

  3. MrEricSir says:

    Wonder what Twitter's advertisers would think if instead of seeing a single DAU metric, they saw two: one for normal users, and one for trash users (Nazis, harassers, morons screaming about "white genocide," etc. etc.)?

    If they knew what they were getting into, I suspect many would spend their advertising budget elsewhere.

  4. rcn says:

    Wow, some people there in the US are quick to use the term "white supremacist". Even if the case they're talking about could be more properly described as "utter idiocy", "neglect by incompetence" or simply "I'm rich and I just can't give a fuck".

    • William says:

      The term "white supremacist" can be used it different ways here. It can refer to conscious, explicit pro-white behavior, as you see from the white nationalists and alt-right types. It can refer to structural features of the society. America, after all, started out explicitly white supremacist, with black people as property of whites. We still haven't eliminated all of that; the existing status quo is often de facto white supremacist. It can also refer to people maintaining or aiding that status quo. I think that's the meaning here.

      Twitter is many things to many people, but one thing it is is a free white hood dispenser. If somebody is filled with racial hatred, they can pop on an anime avatar and abuse black people all day long. If something is happening, like a black woman appearing in Ghostbusters, they can mob up with other racists and make her life hellish.

      So are the people at Twitter consciously and intentionally white supremacist? No. Did they build something that can be used to help maintain America's existing legacy of white supremacy? You betcha. And given their overwhelmingly white management, which is another legacy of America's white supremacy, it's not surprising they have been slow to even admit the problem, let alone fix it.

      • rcn says:

        Thanks for the insight. It's a rare thing to find a simple explanation of a social and cultural issue that doesn't offer an extremist and biased point of view.

  5. People keep coming up with these complicated semantic-based ideas for hunting Twitter Nazis. It's much easier than that. All you have to do is look for networks of accounts that tweet the exact same text. Presto, you've found the botnets. And the good news is this behavior has been against Twitter's terms of service from day one, so there should be no issue with immediately booting them.

    Yes the Nazi bot runners could get around this by slightly varying their texts. I mean, anyone who isn't a lazy idiot would do that, right? The Nazis do not do that.

    • jwz says:

      The fact that they clearly haven't done even the basic things like this tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.

      Like when Franken asked the Facebook flak, "Why do you accept payment for US political ads in rubles?" and all the "Well Actuallys" off the world said, "But currency exchanges exist, they'll just launder their payments!" Yes, probably they would. But right now they don't have to because Facebook hasn't even tried that hard.

      The lack of effort to prevent it is, in itself, a welcome mat.

      • ennui says:

        ooooo, let's play stupid or evil.

        Nazis aside, Twitter has found new ways to make an internet bulletin board experience worse than phpbb, ways that you or I could never imagine, like the surprising ways clicks interact with images, external links, internal links, the "threading", algorithmic driven hiding of content, etc... which tells you something even more about their priorities. I bet they didn't know that half the time 'Vine' movies would just chew up processor cycles and do nothing.

        How can they ban Nazis when you can barely "use" Twitter to talk about being mad on the internet? I think their main problem is that they are desperately embarrassed by the idea that they are running a billion dollar BBS built around the gimmic of pretending all of the messages are transported over SMS.

        Someone should make a Oulipo-Twitter clone, where you can use as many characters as you want except for the letter 'e'. That will be a great way to interact with brands...

  6. Wil E. Coyote says:

    Many years ago I read at Kuro5hin (remember Kuro5hin?) an excellent essay explaining the modus operandi of neonazis and Holocaust deniers. It look a while to recover it from the Wayback Machine, but here it is:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20021223124638/http://www.kuro5hin.org:80/story/2002/9/19/205033/984

    Anyway, the reason I'm posting it is because of this paragraph, which I've thought a lot about lately:

    "...if you let a surly 12 year old boy hang out with me, I can turn him into a neo-nazi in a short time. Being the first to tell the tale has its advantages. This has not changed much. Holocaust deniers used to use the humble mimeograph to spread their propaganda. When the xerox machine came out, they expected it to increase the number of their followers. It didn't. When BBSes emerged, they expected to get more followers. It didn't work. The same happened with Usenet, and then the Web. They got no more followers. They lost no more followers..."

    Looks like, when it comes to social media, the nazis have finally hit the jackpot.

    • William says:

      Wow, that's an excellent post. Thanks for digging it up. And that makes the connection between Gamergate and internet Nazis make more sense to me. Somebody did get to the surly 12 year old boys. Maybe not intentionally; maybe it was just other young guys self-radicalizing as with Elliot Rodger. But I can better see how it happened.

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