Sunday, July 08, 2018

Twitter's War Against The Bots?


About 5 years ago a closeted Republican retired from Congress-- not a case like Mark Foley who was really forced out because he was found to be molesting underage pages-- but just a garden variety gay guy who, though notorious inside the Beltway, was relatively unknown for his homosexuality in his own district. I used to write about him being gay whenever he voted against the LGBTQ community, which was not all the time but was still fairly frequently. After he retired, he became friends with a close friend of mine and I came to know that he had hired an (expensive) firm to bury all the posts I had written about him. I hadn't known that could be done... but it can and often is. There was a time when you could type "David Dreier, gay" into google and tons of DWT would pop right up. Now the first DWT post about him doesn't come up until the 4th search page. Bitch! (Here: take that!)

In 2016 I noticed that it was becoming harder and harder to find topical video clips that were favorable to Hillary and negative about Señor Trumpanzee. After a while I figured out what was happening. "Someone" was running a campaign to banish those clips off the front YouTube search pages with absurd videos that came up by using the search terms someone would use to find the clips for Hillary and against Trump. It went on for month after month after month before-- and after-- the stories about Russian interference-- and collusion-- in the U.S. election.

I hope Facebook is taking action to protect itself from a repitition. Twitter is. They're clearing out the bots-- 70 million fake accounts in May and June alone! That's a million fake accounts a day! The Washington Post reported that that's more than double the rate the social media platform was suspending back in October.

Twitter's increasingly aggressive purges were already alarming some users; In February, the platform assured that it was wiping out bots, not silencing conservatives. But the company has also taken the opportunity to liquidate retweet-spamming accounts in order to promote more genuine interaction. While today's revelations are more about controlling misinformation, the heavier-handed platform policing is a definite policy shift for a company that has avoided banning users for behavior or abuse.

Suspending 70 million users still sounds like a blow to a company that's struggled to increase its userbase, but these cullings have not had "a ton of impact" on the amount of active users, Twitter's VP of Trust and Safety told the Washington Post. According to him, those accounts weren't tweeting regularly.

Sources told the Post that there was widespread internal debate over the decision to target fake accounts on Twitter. Reportedly, it was the political pressure after Congress grilled the company on the litany of Russian-controlled fake accounts that pushed Twitter to pursue more aggressive action to curtail bots on its platform. The company started looking at account behavior to identify them, determining that things like tweeting at a large number of unfamiliar accounts and how often they were blocked were red flags. Twitter's punitive measures have also evolved beyond suspensions: For example, they can now curtail the impact and reach of a user's tweets by burying them deep in the message stream.
Is 70 million a lot. It really is, since Twitter only has 337.06 million accounts, although some experts are claiming that most of the 70 million were just dormant accounts, not Russian saboteurs. Still, as Trump ramps up his war against the mainstream media, it's going to be important tp watch what social media companies are doing here? Are they silencing legitimate voices of dissent or blocking actual spammers and bots?

The Crucifixion by Nancy Ohanian

In case you didn't read Maureen Dowd's For Whom The Trump Trolls this weekend, here you go." More Twitter stuff, this time about, among other things, how dangerous Trump's addiction is to the country.
Donald Trump was profoundly affected by watching his older brother, Freddy, die from alcoholism at 43.

He proselytized against drinking and smoking, warning his kids away from those vices. Even with his casinos, Trump wasn’t a gambler, either, saying he’d rather own slot machines than play them.

And yet, in a strange twist, Trump has ended up an addict.

One of the more chilling things I’ve heard recently came from Jaron Lanier, the Silicon Valley founding father whose new book is Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.

Lanier, who met Trump a couple of times back in the real estate developer’s New York heyday, thinks the president’s addiction to tweeting is rewiring his brain in a negative way. As Trump picks up speed on Twitter, the Oval Office is becoming a Skinner box. Like other “behavior modification empires,” as Lanier calls social media sites, Twitter offers positive reinforcement for negativity.

“Twitter addicts take on this kind of nervous, paranoid, cranky quality, sort of itching for a fight,” Lanier said in an interview. “Trump used to be in on his own joke, and he no longer is. He’s just striking out every morning, fishing for somebody to harass or seeing who’s harassing him.

“I do think it creates a terrifying situation because somebody who is addicted is easy to manipulate. It’s easier for the North Koreans to lie to him than if he wasn’t an addict.”

And the hostility and insensitivity that so easily flow from his fingers now define his immigration policy.

I saw a report on PBS about a mother on the border who was reunited with her 14-month-old child after 85 days. “The child continued to cry when we got home and would hold on to my leg and would not let me go,” the mother wrote. “When I took off his clothes, he was full of dirt and lice. It seemed like they had not bathed him the 85 days he was away from us.”

On the occasion of America’s 242nd birthday, we must ask who we are, if we can see accounts of infants snatched from their parents and returned covered in lice, and not worry about our country’s soul.

Trump has certainly made political discourse more crude and belligerent. But is he making the whole country meaner, coarser and less empathetic? Or was the pump primed for a political figure like him because the internet had already made America meaner, coarser and less empathetic? Did they happen simultaneously?

Launching a comeback, Twitter recast itself in a harsher light. The company, The Times’s Farhad Manjoo wrote, “tweaked its central feed to highlight virality, turning Twitter into a bruising barroom brawl featuring the most contentious political and cultural fights of the day.”

Manjoo told me: “Now when you log in, they show you the most interesting tweets you missed while you were away. They highlight the tweets of people arguing, the big news brawls of the day, as a way to engage the rest of the audience. That makes it a meaner place.”

This, even as Twitter-- under pressure like the rest of Silicon Valley for letting the monsters get out of control-- is developing “health metrics” to promote civility and communicate “more holistically.”

On its company blog, Twitter said it was inspired by Cortico, a nonprofit research organization that is trying to measure “conversational health” with four indicators: shared attention, shared reality, variety of opinion and receptivity. Not exactly the attributes we see in Trump.

It will be hard for Twitter to become more civil and holistic given that in January it instituted a world leaders policy exempting a certain head of state from any tempering efforts. “Blocking a world leader from Twitter or removing their controversial Tweets would hide important information people should be able to see and debate,” the company said.

That leaves Trump free to grab his phone at all hours to shove and to smear and to spew falsehoods. As Michiko Kakutani writes in her new book, “The Death of Truth”: “Trump, of course, is a troll-- both by temperament and by habit. His tweets and offhand taunts are the very essence of trolling-- the lies, the scorn, the invective, the trash talk, and the rabid non sequiturs of an angry, aggrieved, isolated, and deeply self-absorbed adolescent who lives in a self-constructed bubble and gets the attention he craves from bashing his enemies and trailing clouds of outrage and dismay in his path.”

Be best!

We have a president who is an addict running a country overflowing with opioid and social media addicts. (In an interview with The Times a few days ago, our tech reporter Nellie Bowles said she dealt with her smartphone addiction by graying out her screen, noting, “These phones are designed to look and work like slot machines-- hit us with bright colors and little pings to activate and please,” and “we all have to figure out little hooks to pull back into the physical world.”)

Art Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has lamented the extraordinarily aggressive online comments at media outlets, hopes people will resume a sense of decorum when they realize “there’s very little long-term profit from a viral tweet.”

“We don’t have to cater to those meanspirited instincts,” he said. “We can be better than that.”

But I don’t think Trump can. He figured out how to dominate Twitter, not with the cool-kid arch style of making fun of someone, but by being school-yard-bully mean.

His tweets propel the story on cable news and shape the narrative for reporters-- who are addicted to the First Addict.

For Trump, who is also an attention addict, that is about as holistic as it’s going to get.

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At 6:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This nation turned vile once the Dulles Brothers and James Byrne managed to ignite the Cold War against the Soviet Union once it became clear that Stalin was kicking Hitler's ass (this would be fall of 1944 when it became clear that Overlord was successful). One war wasn't even finished yet and these bastards were starting up another one. I'd love to know how long it took them to clean up their silk drawers once Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein caught everyone flat footed.

Had this nation not gone fascist before the German fascists were defeated, could Trump ever have had a realistic chance at the Oval Office?

I say no.

At 6:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to argue your well thought out theory... but trump is president because americans got stupid, lazy, greedy and hateful. We were fascist, arguably, for 40 years before we started down the path of unbounded greed and hate in 1980.

my point of demarcation was Reagan winning a landslide running on greed, stupidity (lower revenues and increase spending to balance an already deficit budget?) and hate (dog whistle racism in the south).

Republicans were already fascists. The tax cuts plus deregs created corporate consolidations that made more money than ever before available for bribes. And Clinton et al made sure the democrats got in on the action (DLC).

Thus, fascism became normalized across the bichromatic political spectrum.

Voters were too flawed already to ever make either side change. So it's been a well-paced frog-march into naziism ever since. On that road, a trump becomes inevitable.


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