Strange Days

I completed the first of two bike events yesterday: 56 miles as a warm-up to 45 might seem a bit excessive, but having never done endurance before a lot of lessons were learnt. Also, the county in which I live’s reputation as being a little bit hipster, a little bit posh but an awful lot of self-obsessed, selfish idiocy remains 100% unopposed. Yesterday’s random poke was just that, and it would be easy to just dismiss it as such, except there’s anger at the fact this kind of behaviour isn’t going away, and is becoming increasingly ‘normal.’

I know I’m supposed to do no harm, but some days it is really a tough ask.

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I’m gonna work hard to get the £500 total donation to Mind for Sunday’s ride covered, and after that I’m wondering how to start making a tangible difference when there are days I have trouble with motivation. The obvious answer is to do something creative, because then the timetable is mine to dictate and cope with. I have a month to think up something suitable, and the idea situation would be to ask people to donate to a mental health charity as a result.

This is something that doesn’t go away, and I need to keep raising money. Not because I might one day need it, or because this is somehow a worthy cause to make my own self look decent and fair. This should just be something people do without thinking, like reading a newspaper or buying a burger. Giving people money to be able to help those in pain express how they feel, when they’re struggling, to find the means by which they can explain what is wrong and how that needs to be treated is an absolutely massive issue.

Some days, I can’t even explain what is wrong, and writing is what I do as a living.

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The trick, I suppose, is to just keep plugging away and to ignore the haters, which is how my life online has taken place since the start.

The Universal

The Internet, depending on who you believe, is either the Best or Worst place on Earth. You can find instructions on how to make almost anything, the history of the Planet, what words mean in hundreds of languages. It is teeming with brilliance and productivity, or is a cesspool of anger, resentment and danger. How you view online existence will undoubtedly be tempered by experiences within the Real World. It’s no less dangerous, and can be manipulated in the same ways that transpire everywhere else.

So, why do so many people feel they’re above consequence and can exist anonymously without recrimination?

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Our Twitter short story this month deals with such an individual, whose existence in fiction is very simple to realise, based on the evidence that surrounds me every day. When I’ve personally been attacked online, it’s taken about thirty minutes to track and trace the individuals responsible. If you don’t disable location services from your phone, for instance, anonymity is the biggest joke going. Many people will argue that the future isn’t anonymous anyway: everybody needs to know who you are.

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Read the BBC Article here

That article is well worth your time, but doesn’t consider one of the main reasons why being a dick online is the new ‘knocking on your neighbours’ door and running away:’ who’s going to chase after you and demand an arrest for harassment?  Everybody’s Internet use works on the concept that being anonymous allows a certain freedom, which was for some time almost sacrosanct. At least, it was until that Facebook thing happened: then, people began to realise just how fucking cavalier they’d been with their personal information whilst under the impression a ‘fun online quiz’ wasn’t a subtle means to intellectually profile:

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Except if you’d been here since the 1990’s and paid attention you’d know just how dangerous this place can be when you allow anyone to use it without there being some kind of consequence attached. As a parent, I now know only too well just how damaging unsupervised access can be, and how clamping down on said access has similarly disastrous outcomes. You are damned at either end of the spectrum, and just removing yourself from a platform is no indicator you’ll be safe or in control. There is no real answer to remaining out of the loop: however, if you’re still stupid enough to think you’re smart enough to have it all your own way? Think again.

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Having dealt with some fairly devious behaviour in the last few months, it is clear that nothing is beyond some individuals in an attempt to manipulate and control others. Perhaps it is time to stop hoping that people will simply be decent or there’s some supernatural force available to save us all, and just start thinking more about our actions.

The Internet, after all, is not going anywhere.

Oh, Joy

As a writer, there are days when knowing what to write is a tough ask. I can remember weeks when I was paid to produce words about one subject where finding an angle to cover was nigh-on impossible, and there’d be lots of frustrated staring at a blank screen, hoping inspiration would be forthcoming. Then there are the days when, like today, I wake up to find some random hooligan’s dropped into my Social media mentions with an inflammatory comment, clearly hoping to start a fight. Part of you dearly just wants to respond and to hell with it, when the sensible course of action is to ignore and block.

I reported him as spam too, for the record, because twats like that deserve all they get.

Giving everybody a voice will, inevitably, have its shortcomings. The people you’d like to speak won’t (because sensibly they understand the consequences when they do) and those who are unable to cope with the pressure of expectation inevitably fail to cope and implode. There’s also a thousand points in between: the wannabee Internet celebrities, the Experts, people writing books (or selling them) and then there’s the advertisers desperately trying to jump on everybody’s coat-tails.

Making sense of the Social media quagmire used to be a problem, but that’s really no longer the biggest challenge. Reality, such as it is, now accommodates shortcomings in the platforms: no edit function on Twitter means that stupid remains, often with a prophetic ability to return from the past to taunt the present (see American Presidents) The nerdier of my Nethead buddies will tell you that if you do fuck up, the Internet never forgets, which is often enough of a threat to prevent someone like me from even starting the post I’d like to write.

Today, for instance, is a case in point.

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When I look back on the moments which have defined my journey online, 99% of the issues stemmed from other people’s drama. If you take a breath, consider the consequences and then don’t say what you think so many of the issues would just go away. I’m getting better at not vague tweeting, and my subtweet GIF’s are beginning to gather dust. More importantly, when I look at all the people who have been removed from my online experience in the last year, none of them is missed at all.

It’s great these people are popular and liked by others. I get how important they are in the Community, or the community or even the community. You don’t have to like everybody. Yes, you can respect them, and understand them, plus you can occasionally be a wee bit jealous. All these emotions are perfectly acceptable, and very human. The fact remains, if you are friends with everybody, I’m going to look for a catch. Genuinely good and decent people can be so without everybody being their besties.

Adults get how Social media is only a version of reality.

As I become more comfortable with my own voice on contentious subjects, there are undoubtedly casualties. I’m not interested in NSFW sexualisation of computer game characters, or women who decide to use their bodies as means to forward their careers. Neither of these preferences has changed over decades, it is just that with Social media shoving stuff in my face 24/7 I need to impose my preferences on it, and not the other way around. It all comes back to curation: if you don’t like what you’re given, it is your job to alter that, not other people’s.

Spending more time making online life more bearable is an effort worth making.

Only Myself to Blame

When I saw the Cambridge Analytica story break on Saturday night, ahead of the expose in the Guardian on Sunday, I made the point to my husband that by this time in the week ahead, it would be all anyone was talking about. Last night, he came and congratulated me for my foresight. I’ve not had a serious Facebook presence for many years, and the only reason name is not deleted completely from the platform is that it is a requirement when one advertises using a Facebook page. There are no illusions when it comes to my presence on the platform. I’m there to build a brand.

The platform, however, isn’t interested in my needs, only its own.

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I only have two ‘friends’ linked to my main Facebook page, and sometimes five or six times a day the algorithm attempts to get me to follow somebody they know. I’ve spent an hour some days clicking ‘remove’ until the list is clear, to come back the next day and find everybody is back. This ‘social network’ does not take no for an answer. Saying you are not interested is insufficient. It continues to hassle you until you either give in or stop listening. Those people now wanting to blame the people behind the application for the damage it has caused fail to grasp that it is not just drug dealers who are culpable for addiction issues. Facebook is our fault too.

What continues to strike me with amazement, is the willingness some people accept the virtual world as being fact. It isn’t just fake news either: yesterday, someone popped up in my Twitter mentions, assuming I was an artist because a news article about said individual was linked in relevance to an item I was promoting. The leap in logic that took place was, frankly, staggering, but it also demonstrated an arrogance of perception that should be giving many people cause for considerable concern. Social media makes us believe that major World events are ours to influence, whilst sitting in front of a screen or holding a mobile device.

The truth, of course, is anything but.

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The arrogance of many people is now even more apparent than ever before: watching key players in the row trying to blame each other is almost comical when the truth remains that if we as users hadn’t have insisted we all needed this platform, none of it would have happened. If individuals organised themselves better, didn’t think success equated to huge follower numbers and stopped believing the future exists in a cloud and not in front of them… The Internet is a brilliant place when it’s just a library, or a repository for knowledge. It’s totally fine with small groups of people who organise their own rulesets. The problem comes when someone turns up and wants to make money from your ignorance and fear.

This has always been the way the World has worked, people who seem to think this manipulation is somehow new. Religion has used these tactics to subjugate populations and keep the rabble in check for thousands of years. Don’t worry, people of faith, I’m not about to diss your omnipotent overseers. I’m looking at a Catholic Church that would tell people there was no way they’d get into heaven without a payment plan. I’m remembering the Snake Oil sellers and the guy who convinced you he could make it rain simply by doing a dance. Playing on basic individuals needs to be loved, popular and not alone… happened since the Human race came out of the caves. Sure, there needs to be better regulation of such things, but honestly?

Only ourselves to blame here.

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Today, I’ll be removing my Facebook presence for good using this Guide. On considered reflection, if it matters that much, then someone can start a fan page for me. Other people can post my links to their pages. If they want me, I’m here, in a place that I regulate under my own terms and conditions. This way there is no need to then get frustrated at the daily efforts to make me be ‘social’ which are nothing more than beating me up and hoping finally I give in to make it stop. That’s not how you make people care, and it is certainly not a future that is either desired or preferable.

Sometimes, the only way you make things better isn’t to hope somebody else solves the issue, but to attack it for yourself.

[EDIT:

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There. That’s sorted now.]

Is It Worth It?

Today is a ‘ponder your existence’ day.

I’ve formed a lot of personal relationships over the years with people who, it must be said, seem to have little or no interest in me. The associations have, for the most part, come about from moments of brief brilliance: a chance meeting in a game, or maybe a glorious exchange via Social media. After that moment, one of two things tends to happen. That person either a) gets bored and simply vanishes or b) has a massive, almost nuclear meltdown, flounces off and is never seen again.

I seem to fall in love with the hopeless cases.

For me, the Internet is a second home. This is sometimes a bit unhealthy (and, of late, I am attempting to curb my time on Twitter because there are no longer enough hours in the day to get everything done otherwise) and is historically cyclical. Once the weather gets better I’ll be outside anyway, but for now, we’re using Social media as a means to sell ourselves. However, not a day goes by when I watch someone who used to be active and enjoyable on the platform drift into the past without a goodbye.

It can get quite depressing if one allows this romantic association to consume the rational, sensible part of brain that gets how anonymity works. Now my real name is attached to my Twitter accounts, there’s no escaping the truth of what I am, but as I’m unlikely to have to worry about being employed in a massive multinational anytime soon, having my Boss turn up to read Tweets is not a major concern. Still, honesty does matter. Today I’ve been lied to and that hurts.

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Having a long memory on the Internet is useful. Remembering who was the dick and the hero, understanding the people prepared to have a conversation when you need one, the person with the best GIFs… all these things add up to the perfection of a Decent Online Experience. Of course, none of this matters one iota to the person with their own agenda, who’s just here to get a quick fix of narcissistic joy. Like all things, your experience will vary. I’m here for the long term, however, so it matters a great deal that the environment is conducive for me to survive. Therefore, you unfollow the hacked accounts, you block the obvious robots, and life goes on regardless.

Today, however, I miss the good people who went away, the ones I can’t get to be there anymore, and my friends who no longer communicate.

I think I miss them most of all.

The Fix

Yesterday, after someone popped up on my  Twitter feed that I had blocked, I went on a bit of an impromptu exploration of my account. What I found made me stop and think about how Twitter has changed in the last few years, and that those of use using the platform for promotion purposes need to look quite closely at what it is we say and do.

The first major takeaway from this exercise was that, based on my profile and activity, the web-based version of the platform decided I was male. This is not on reflection as much of a surprise as it was yesterday and explains why so much of the advertising that drove me off using the Mac OS version of Twitter was targetted in the way it was. I’d never go back to using the web-based interface either because of the adverts, and it remains the #1 reason why I can’t ever take Twitter seriously (as is the case with Facebook.)

On further inspection, there’s a list of ‘interests’ generated on the web API which (presumably) are used to tailor the advertising I don’t look at.

The eight items that remain hidden (and unclickable) are something of an issue, but not nearly as much as the fact that there are things I’m associated with that I don’t understand:

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Okay I get the majority of these (and woman’s pants/trousers are clearly an item of interest) but WTF is kaurie2 and WHY do I have THREE mentions of it? One assumes it’s a mistake or a programmers oversight… but, REALLY?

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There is also the means by which you can ask Twitter exactly how it uses data in order to tailor content to you. In my case that is a 13 page .PDF file which includes all the commercial Twitter accounts the company feels I would have an interest in. Twitter ‘creates these audiences based on similarities between (your) account and the accounts included in tailored audiences’ and even by opting out of all the specific tools that sell to me, I cannot remove myself from being sold at. There’s a number of out and out spam accounts on this list, apart from a number of fairly obvious other high-profile names… and some not so obvious ones…

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Yes really, I’m on her list, despite being a) not eligible to vote in the US and b) not being American. Twitter, your metrics need a SERIOUS overhaul… 

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If these things matter to you and if you’re interested in how robots and algorithms already are arbitrarily labelling your future… maybe take some time today to see what companies Twitter has decided you need to be an audience for.

THE RESULTS WILL SURPRISE YOU.

#GSME18 :: Forget You

I did wonder at the end of last year whether Twitter would have a relevance for me in 2018. As it transpires, there’s more than ever to discuss in the world of Social media. 

It’s rather satisfying to see that the Real World [TM] is finally catching up with a truth many hardcore Twitter users have known for years. It’s the Social media equivalent of Gold Farming in online games: you wanna look cool and clever? Just buy the followers you need. This expose also explains why I’ve seen a significant drop off in followers from accounts a) clearly only looking for reach and b) randomly following me out of the blue. Sure, it still happens, but the practice is now finally being weeded out and shut down. Of course, you won’t stop the thing completely, but there is now at least an acknowledgement the practice takes place.

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The Tweetdeck platform now likes to tell me who other people on my Friends List are following presumably in the hope I’ll consider doing the same. However, I’ve started to consciously buck the trend of courting followers. At this point I have little or no interest in actively promoting myself using any of the platform’s tools: I’ve even ignored various invites to join the Beta of their ‘all in’ promotion tool. Right now I’m happy to sit on the sidelines, slowly removing followers I’m confident either aren’t real or who are detrimental to my mental health. Sometimes they fall in both camps, but the number of robots or automated accounts is beginning to level out. I’m now looking for clearly-curated streams, with a real person behind them, and this policy is beginning to pay dividends.

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Half a million impressions in January, considering my current output, is a decent baseline to improve on going forward. It gives a guide to what I’m capable of, and now I’ve stopped caring about ‘growth’ in terms of audience, there’s more space to simply work on the content. I’m interacting far more regularly with the people who are around, which is a more satisfying situation that becoming frustrated with negativity. Accentuating positives, amazingly, does work.

You can, therefore, expect more on the Great Social Media Experiment going into 2018.