Saturday January 18, 2020

The enigma that is Twitter

In relation to Google and Facebook, Twitter is a minnow. And yet it dominates our politics and public discourse, in ways that seem increasingly dysfunctional. Writing in The Atlantic, Robinson Meyer argues that that’s because “it’s a machine for misunderstanding other people’s ideas and identities”. Developing the idea led him to dig into the ideas of Walter Ong, a linguist and Jesuit priest who died at 91 in 2003. “Ong spent his life trying to understand the revolutionary technologies, such as the television and radio, unleashed during his lifetime. But he did so by looking far from modern America—and by studying the difference between human cultures rooted in orality and those rooted in literacy. His topic matters for Twitter more than you may think.” Oral conversation is very different from text-based interactions, and the problem with Twitter is that it fuses the two. “The rot we’re seeing in Twitter”, as Bonnie Stewart puts it, is “the rot of participatory media devolved into competitive spheres where the collective ‘we’ treats conversational contributions as fixed print-like identity claims.” Sounds pretentious, maybe, but isn’t: and worth reading in full. permalink

Trolling, epilepsy and human nature

The Internet holds a mirror up to human nature, and much that is reflected there is truly revolting. If you want an insight into the depths of human depravity, then thisis is pretty good illustration. Epilepsy sufferers have been plagued by trolls who target them with strobing GIFs which can trigger epileptic attacks. Last week the trial opened of a guy named John Rayne Rivello who had sent a GIF that triggered a serious attack to a journalist who had posted material critical of Donald Trump. The GIF strobed violently across his computer screen, flashing a red, yellow and blue geometric pattern behind the words “YOU DESERVE A SEIZURE FOR YOUR POSTS.” The attack could have been fatal if the victim’s wife had not discovered him in time. Rivello is expected to plead guilty, making this the first conviction for this kind of inhuman behaviour, but what’s even more revolting is that Rivello’s supporters — among them, neo-Nazis and white nationalists, including Richard Spencer — have been arguing that the issue here is about freedom of speech. In an amicus brief to the criminal case, the First Amendment Clinic at Duke University School of Law put the boot into this idiotic claim: “A brawler who tattoos a message onto his knuckles does not throw every punch with the weight of First Amendment protection behind him,” the brief stated. “Conduct like this does not constitute speech, nor should it. A deliberate attempt to cause physical injury to someone does not come close to the expression which the First Amendment is designed to protect.” permalink