Sunday, 27 November 2022

Getting the bird

Regular readers will know that I’m an enthusiastic user of Twitter. In recent weeks, there has been a mixture of excitement and consternation following the $44 billion takeover of the platform by billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. I’m no cheerleader for Musk, and in some respects he seems more of a loose cannon than a knight in shining armour. After peremptorily sacking a substantial proportion of staff, there was much speculation that the platform might fall over, but that hasn’t happened, and indeed Musk has reported record traffic and user numbers.

Many of the dismissed staff seem to have been engaged not in actually running the site, but in “content moderation”, i.e. censorship. It was widely felt that the previous regime on Twitter had pursued a very heavy-handed and partisan approach to throttling and banning accounts expressing conservative viewpoints or questioning the official narrative on Covid and lockdowns. People felt that they were constantly walking on eggshells, and many accounts have been suspended purely for the opinions expressed.

Musk has said that he will give an amnesty to all banned accounts with obvious exceptions such as illegal conduct and harassment, and they seem to be slowly returning, most notably that of former US President Donald Trump, although he has engaged in his own subtle form of trolling by not actually tweeting anything so far. Another is the satirical account The Babylon Bee.

Some people, alarmed by this sudden outbreak of free speech, have taken refuge in an alternative platform called Mastodon. Now, I don’t know much about this, and have no intention to open an account, but it appears to be a decentralised network of servers, each of which applies its own policies. I have already heard reports of heavy-handed moderation, and of someone being banned for supposedly being “a capitalist”. And surely, if the whole thing links together, there must be problems when someone on one of the more tolerant servers ends up interacting with those on one of the more censorious ones.

A platform like Twitter needs a critical mass to succeed – there is no point in being there if all you’re doing is shouting into a void. This is likely to be a problem for Mastodon, just as it was for conservative-minded people who set up accounts on Gab, Parler or GETTR. Maybe some parts of it will become a cosy echo chamber for like-minded people, but that’s really missing the point. And if you are trying to operate two accounts in parallel it becomes more like hard work and you will lose some of the spontaneity.

It must be remembered that the key point about free speech is that it needs to be extended to people with whom you profoundly disagree, and indeed whose views you may find obnoxious. If it is only allowed to those you find congenial, there is no free speech. And a key feature of Twitter and similar platforms is that you can tailor it to your own tastes by your choice of who to follow, and who to mute or block so, if you so choose, you never need to be exposed to opinions that make you feel uncomfortable.

It’s also worth mentioning that Musk has reportedly carried out a major crackdown on the exchange of child porn material through Twitter, which apparently had been widespread under the old regime, although I have to say it’s not something I’d ever noticed personally.

17 comments:

  1. I'm not a fan of Twitter, nor Elon Musk, so wouldn't be sorry to see the back of both. 😡

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    1. Sounds like you're not much of a fan of free speech either :P

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  2. Laughable how all the wokies are flouncing off to Mastobate but keeping posting on Twitter to let us know.

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  3. That's rather a crass and very judgemental comment to make Mudge. My dislike of Twitter, is related to the trivial and transient nature of the whole platform.

    I suppose it's fine for people with too much time on their hands, but meanwhile, back in the real world.....
    .

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    1. Oh, I was being slightly tongue-in-cheek, hence the smiley. But AIUI you are not a user of Twitter, so wouldn't it have been better just to say "It's not my thing". "I wouldn't be sorry to see the back of it" implies animus rather than indifference.

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    2. Professor Pie-Tin1 December 2022 at 16:43

      I would have thought you'd love Twitter - it is after all the natural home of the virtue-signaller.
      Personally I'm not on any social media mainly because I don't trust myself not to cause havoc when I'm pissed but also because I've no interest in when someone's child has its first bowel movement.
      But I'm a huge fan of Musk. The man is a genius but also even-handed in disliking the woke smuggeratti as much as the right-wing mob. Your can see why the snowflakes are whining like they've had a smacked arse - their echo chamber is under assault.
      The way social media has been politicised and, in America, has become the Democrats twin trained monkey along with CNN makes me delighted to see Musk getting in among them.
      As someone wrote recently - Twitter has gone to the dogs since Musk took over, say 75 million tweets.

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  4. Hi Mudge, the smiley didn't show up on my phone, which is the only device available to me, whilst traveling.

    However, my opinions of the platform, and Elon Musk, remain the same. 😀

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  5. In my opinion you are better avoiding Twatter and Farcebook et al.

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  6. Hmm, it's not just moderation staff. Large amounts of engineering have gone too, and the danger there is that if Musk, who is almost certainly no engineer, removes too many of them, the platform itself will start to creak. Huge systems like Twitter are very difficult to cold-start if there is a big issue, and Mush has already demonstrated a lack of understanding when he broke 2FA.

    As to the free speech issue, well, there's a balance to be found and the problem is avoiding an echo-chamber and only the free speech we (or Musk) agree with. Largely that's quite manageable.

    As to Mastodon and different instances having different policies- in actual fact this is a real win for free speech; if you have the skills and the bandwidth, you can host your own instance should you so wish, and define whatever policies you see fit- and you can still join the federation of other servers, so you're never beholden to Musk, Zuckerberg, or anyone else, unless you do something dodgy enough to upset your hosting provider. If you don't have the skills/bandwidth, then you can try to find an instance that suits your views- and still participate with the rest of the Fediverse.

    Whether Twitter fails or Mastodon starts to dominate is anyone's guess, but the fact this is being discussed atall is significant. 12 months ago, we'd find it unbelievable, but nothing is too big to fail, you can read all about it on my MySpace page ;-)

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    1. The other key point about free speech is that it does not allow you to shout Fire! in a crowded theatre.
      \nor should it extend to allow Musk to call people who disagree with him paedophiles, as he did when Vern Unsworth turned down his offer of a mini-sub for use in the Thai cave rescue in 2018

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    2. The other key point about free speech is that it does not allow you to call me a nazi and a fascist if I say a man can not be a woman. That was allowed for many years, and now suddenly people come from the woodworks to free speech is a danger to democracy.

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    3. Of course a man can not be a women and \i would not call you a Nazi and a fascist for saying so. Indeed \I would be unlikely to call anyone a Nazi

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    4. An interesting point in your first paragraph, stymaster, as this recent article Technology Review shows. https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/11/08/1062886/heres-how-a-twitter-engineer-says-it-will-break-in-the-coming-weeks/

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    5. It puzzles me how software fails. It isn't like a piece of machinery where parts wear out, where bearings seize. If it works once it should continue to work for all time

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  7. Professor Pie-Tin9 December 2022 at 12:26

    So, a month after its sale Twitter is still working perfectly normally.
    Seems like another Project Fear is turning out to be as risible as the last one ...

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    1. If you are expecting a crash, that’s not how it would fail at this point. Upgrades and new features would be likely culprits.

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  8. And now Musk has released a huge amount of evidence of political manipulation and suppression by Twitter.

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