And I am really, really happy whenever I open up the letters page and I see little girls or little boys with a picture of themselves in a Squirrel Girl costume I don't sit back and say 'Gee, in my day, Iron Man was a white guy.
I've got probably a thousand Tony Stark Iron Man comic books. I don't need to have them print another one of those for me. They take great pains to point out that comics are supposed to be escapist reading and nothing more. That they have no role in deciding what kind of shops they want to host, what kind of sites they want to protect. Remember when the people in this room were probably the only people in New Zealand on Twitter? Remember when Tumblr was a delightful meme machine? Remember Flickr before Yahoo killed it? Remember when Twitter was just the way a perfect joke could spread.
And not a hellscape in which people are harassed and lies and misinformation are spread.
There are so many things we can point to - prioritising revenue and particularly ad revenue over everything including privacy and safety. Platforms and products built by homogenous teams who never took into account the ways in which they would be used or misused. But today I want to focus in on just one: the myth that a digital space can or should be neutral. The incredible damage that myth has caused. And what we might be able to do it about it for the future. We were certain that more communication would make everything better.
Even now, as we look at how things have gone horribly wrong, there are free internet devotees who believe the answer is in abandoning corporately-controlled platforms like Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr for open source alternatives. At the heart of all of this is the libertarian ideal that this would all inexorably lead toward social progress.
I get it - I grew up as a competitive international debater. I spent my teens and twenties percent convinced in the marketplace of ideas, the rationality of people. That sunlight was the best disinfectant.
Of course the answer to bad information was more information. And a market that is now being deliberately exploited for political aims. We threw everyone together in a single community in the space of a generation. Cities are survivable only because we found a way to coexist without interacting. The internet needs this feature. It still needs to be a global network, just not a single global space with everyone surrounded by shouting strangers. We need tools, control, granularity a different way of thinking about spaces and our relationships with other people. Those of you who used Livejournal back in the day will remember the degree of control you had over what you shared and to whom.
Facebook comes close, with its privacy controls, but hides them so deep most people never find them. So instead, we have platforms that use things like likes and followers as the only metric. The other ways of measuring engagement are kept for brands, verified users, influencers. Take Twitter Moments, for example, where twitter aggregates a whole bunch of tweets around a news story or topic.
I got a cute dog photo added to Pets of the Week and got heart-eyes in my mentions for a week. Last year, a crowdsourced study by Amnesty International found that a problematic or abusive tweet is sent to a woman every 30 seconds. For women of color, one in every 10 tweets they receive is abusive.
So, we find ourself in this giant caldron. And the private owners of this caldron like to pay lipservice to the idea that they understand the problem and they want to help.
A mutual delusion that allows Jack to go on the podcast of an avowed anti-vaxxer, and then tweet this. This libertarian ideal underpins everything. And it utterly fails to take into account the power imbalances in the world around us. A twitter employee recently let slip that one of the main reasons is that any such ban would catch too many Republican politicians.
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That conservative voices are being silenced. So much so, that the White House has launched a tool to help them report it.
In fact, available data consistently shows that right-wing content does as well as left-wing content on Facebook, that YouTube algorithms boost far-right content that radicalizes audiences, and that claims of anti-conservative bias are nothing more than anecdotal. Yet, Jack goes to the White House to appease a president who tweets about this imagined censorship and bias.pyxukekehume.tk
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Our social infrastructure is nothing but machinery for outrage and fear. So we draw back to more intentional, smaller, more private communities. Permanent group chats. Social discords or slacks. Even within those we need to create smaller, even more private spaces.
But as a fandom slack, or a design industry slack, grows to have hundreds or even thousands of members, they essentially become public spaces again. But without any of the curation tools that we need. And so you try, to turn these into more moderated, controlled spaces - with Codes of Conduct, or rules for the group. And where do these sets of rules always, always start?
The first rule is almost always to be polite to one another. A decision to have an apolitical community is an inherently political decision. Kyle Kingsbury recently shared this example on Twitter from the Scala community. One member is trying to have a conversation about recent decisions to invite controversial figures to speak at a community conference. Immediately you see other members move to shut that conversation down. Are you sensing a theme? Messy, unmoderated, public spaces like Twitter and Tumblr are terrible for underrepresented voices because they get harrassed, drowned out, and driven away.
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I started thinking about this dichotomy recently as I read this great article about racism in the knitting community. Social media makes pointing out racism easier than ever. The temporality of Instagram stories is what let them feel free to voice their concerns. Similarly, speaking about racism in fan communities, Rukmini Pande said recently :. They can kick you out of a Discord. There are five things we can do, starting today, to be the heroes we need in the world.
We need to wield the power we already have. As consumers, when we show companies that bad PR is a problem they have to do something about it. As advertisers, refusing to allow your brands to be shown alongside objectionable content goes straight to the bottom line. As employees - you all are some of the most sought-after employees in the world right now. You have so much more power than you think you do. Collective bargaining, exerting that power within these companies, is a serious tool for change.
Employees of Vox Media unionised last year, and have just ratified their first collective bargain. Among the many financial and other protections they won for employees, they also achieved things like this diversity pledge. Even after ten years of diversity and inclusion efforts, the industry is still overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly white and Asian. Inclusive innovation, with members of marginalized groups sitting in positions of power, would have produced very different outcomes.
For example, an engineer or product manager who comes from a community that was historically targeted by voter suppression efforts is far more likely to anticipate the sorts of vulnerabilities we saw exploited on Facebook by Cambridge Analytica. More than that though.
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We need more regulation. Every libertarian in the room feels their hackles go up, but the evidence is insurmountable. It should be true everywhere. Platforms have successfully eradicated almost all of the ISIS content that was spreading online. Technical solutions work just fine to remove commercial or branded content. Or when it suits a company financially. Here is me having a truly infuriating conversation with an AirBNB host where we tried to swap contact details so that we could get in touch with each other off the platform.
Again and again - hidden by AirBnB. The answer is a 12 hour suspension after the fact. When faced with pressure, these companies do make small efforts to change. Twitter now throws up warnings when you search for anti-vax content. Facebook and Google have both introduced new minor rule changes around live streaming after Christchurch.
But ultimately, regulation will always be a blunt instrument.
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We need more than this. Private companies and platforms need to make this a priority - to abandon the myth of neutrality and to determine what the values are that they stand for and stick to them. Rules can always be gamed.