Good morning Earth natives. Somewhere in the world there's old, orange man who's lost all his power... and we have no idea what he thinks or feels about this. Isn't it great?
This week was something I could have done without 👎. Cool and useful stat: this is the second appearance of that rating since Horrific/Terrific began. Okay but why?
- Are decentralised networks a good solution? Fiona Apps, who knows so much more about this than I do, helped me get my head around this
- The Google-Fitbit acquisition
- Bitcoin is ruining the Earth. Let's escape!
📝 Some notes on the great deplatforming
We're all very aware that social media (and The Whitehouse, but that's less important) has told Trump that he can't come out and play anymore. But there really hasn't been enough chat around the fact that Salesforce dumped him too. Why this matters, in three easy steps:
- Trump had a fairly popular (over 20m subscribers) email newsletter going, and it was powered by ExactTarget
- Between Biden getting elected, and the storming of the capitol, Trump's staff sent out over 500 emails to everyone on that list; emails explaining how serious this 'election fraud' was, and how they needed donations to help stop it.
- Salesforce own ExactTarget, and frankly, inciting insurrection was a step too far! So that was that.
Saleforce's reasons were about the same as everyone else's: they didn't want Trump to be allowed to incite violence on their platform.
🤫 Is it me or is all of this a touch patronising to the average internet user? We all know this didn't happen 'suddenly'. The people who stormed the capitol believed that there was election fraud. That's a very big lie, and it takes more than just one tweet or email. This is the kind of thing that happens when we are subjected to years of misinformation.
Now: the conversations about content moderation are doing nothing but annoy me. All the Jack Dorsey's out there have been telling us that it's 'too hard and expensive' to do it effectively — but is it?? Election misinformation went down by 73% on Twitter since Trump's removal.
What we're learning here is that there is a key difference between what Jack Dorsey means by 'content moderation' and what we've seen recently.
- The Jack Dorsey way: underpaying human content moderators and shoddy AI to find all the scrappy tiny accounts (and bots) that tweet nasty things that no one sees
- The 'other' way: don't just find hate speech, find the hate speech that's being retweeted a million times and ban the OP. Look at the people who have influence, not the individual posts.
Pro tip: You can't deplatform someone if there's no platform.
In his response to the Trump ban, Dorsey retweeted his 2019 announcement that Twitter would be investing in this thing called the Bluesky protocol. Thus, the conversation about decentralised social networks has started up again. I can feel Darius Kazemi et al rolling their eyes — they've already been at this for ages.
Just to briefly explain what Bluesky is:
- if you could send 'tweets' via an open protocol, you technically wouldn't need 'Twitter' at all. The platform itself would be irrelevant — instead you'd be able to send tweets via whatever client you want.
- This is much like how we use email. You can send and receive emails to and from any address, using any client (e.g. having a gmail email address doesn't tie you to using mail.google.com to send email — you can send email from anywhere).
A wide adoption of decentralised networks, instead of the few centralised ones we have now, would obviously radically change the way we communicate online. For instance, you could choose to only be in nodes that have a strict no-nazi policy.
By that logic, what's to stop nazis and other hateful groups from doing the same thing? Am I crazy in thinking that decentralised networks are just not the answer here? I asked a Qanon expert, Fiona Apps, what they thought of all this. They said: "They've been using the internet in a coordinated manner since the 1980s I don't think a slightly shittier/more complex interface is going to make a difference now". They also very aptly pointed out that Gab is built on Mastodon.
But, I pleaded with Fiona, that surely open protocols will decrease platform power? Their very good response:
"My hypothesis is that user-to-user moderation is the way of the future but I mean in the soft Humanities way that requires effort. A lot of people agree with the first half but think that a technological facsimile is close enough. Only it won't be user-to-user because most users won't know how to control a node; if we're only using technology, then there's no centralised hub monitoring communities to ensure that the users who are doing the moderation aren't all also Nazis"
Fiona said to let them know if I come across any compelling arguments for decentralisation. If you have any, please respond to this email or leave a comment. No blockchain. Thank you :)
✊ And thank YOU for helping me out this week Fiona! If I was big enough to produce merch, I'd give you some.
📰 Anyway, here's some other things that happened this week
Regulators woke up from their naps to green-light the Google Fitbit acquisition. As pointed out in a previous issue, it was quite obvious that the relevant bodies would fail to block this very significant acquisition. If you hate the idea of Google suddenly owning your health data, may I suggest you either get an Apple Watch, or simply stop being so obsessed by your own heart rate.
This tweet thread discussing the environmental cost of mining Bitcoin was met with these comments on Hacker News. Who do you agree with? Also The Guardian have turned around and said that Bitcoin could just be a scam, so maybe none of this matters.
And finally, seeing as the world is burning at the hands of crypto-mining super computers, hopefully we can get the shit out of here very soon. SpaceX just bought two oil rigs to convert into launchpads, and Virgin have also finally started flinging things into space.
I leave you with an image of myself, 'getting trapped' by technology
It's like, the opposite of being banned..