The best thing about 2020 is that we survived it. Needless to say, which is the worst, it is arguably our collective stupidity in the choices we have made. This reality has forced us to rethink what we do to move forward.
Had we understood the massive changes to come, we wouldn’t be wondering when we will go back to the old, the new or a normal one. Normal is what brought us here. Unlimited air travel, freedom to do whatever we want without regard to the impact it would have on someone else. Nationalism. What is that? Keep us inside, everyone away.
Take Twitter for one. When he first appeared, it was like a pipe dream. For me, it’s always like that. Good people like it, bad people like it. Too bad because they use the global network to inflict damage on their political enemies. Does that mean the phone is a bad thing too? Or cars or popcorn butter? And the dramas? They are sad, reward the winners and the losers? Do I wish Hollywood would only be allowed to do romantic comedies? Well, yes I do.
But only if that does not prevent my rights, my freedom to seek happiness. So when I see Twitter turning into a sump, I’m looking for someone to blame. Let’s start with the bad guys. But what if they have a point on something? Their motives may be suspect or just plain wrong. What am I doing reading them anyway. It’s not like I chose them to follow them. Well, apparently I did, listening to people retweeting what these people spit.
Retweets are another one of those things I love about Twitter. Let’s say I’m someone whose perspective I admire, and they in turn retweet others they admire. A social cloud is forming with some interesting characteristics. Implicitly, the retweets, @mentions, and likes model can be connected to readers or aggregators to reflect trends, emerging news, business analysis and social dynamics of power, ethics, humor and of stature.
So it’s not like following bad actors, but it’s like following their relative position in the flow of who I am. I can rationalize, and I do, this monitoring of other social groups than the chosen social group as the early warning system needed for future problems. These signals can be used prophylactically to measure how our message is conveyed, but a typical impact is to classify our views as fodder for those who wish us harm.
Net net, this compensatory energy reduces the feeling of pleasure that I have with the global network. If I were to not choose Twitter on this issue, I would still choose Twitter. In the early days of social media, I had a front row seat watching how these little signals could have a surprising impact on the concerns of the day, on projecting ideas around the network to and with others who, together, have built support, and sometimes, business through collective group spirit.
Has this been lost in the partisan nature of our daily political noise? Of course, try to say anything about anything and watch the evil trolls whip up their schtick. Not funny. Not effective either, as the repression creates a new rhythm of dynamic Pee Wee Herman yeah-but-what-I-I. What to do? How about a @botmention arguing with tagged trolls but silently removing the noise from the streams of those who @ like the @bot tag.
The implementation of this semi-public flow is already feasible within a private network, with the “cost” of joining the agreement to provide access to an internal view that makes the flow less noisy and more responsive. We have experimented with such a private / public backchannel to support the production of The Gillmor Gang, but I am not here to promote it. Most usefully, the network works effectively in concert with Twitter.
The events of 2020 and the years leading up to the election and the outbreak of the pandemic make it clear that the kind of social media spread that we have seen has consequences that we should have countered but are in fact exacerbated. Yet even in the volatile election liquidation, there are signs of a rebound from playing the chaos card. Whatever you think of the history of Twitter or the lack of backbone development, Jack Dorsey’s red line in the sand was a much needed call to arms against Trump’s bullying.
Even though current technology was limited in its effects, the application of any pushback was a signal of what the world might look like if the elections went the other way. The first amplification of this subtle change came from social media’s biggest client, the mainstream media: a marked refusal at White House press conferences, silent film montages of Republican senators refusing to answer questions shouted in. the corridor, networks cutting the events when the level of lying has reached a false mass.
Mitch McConnell’s decision to pair additional stimulus measures with Trump’s attempt to punish Twitter by repealing Section 230 protection has proven effective in running out of time. He also moved the ball from Trump’s control to the tough Jan. 20 numbers. Georgia’s runoff on January 5, followed the next day by an attempt to challenge the victory of the Biden constituency and takeover of the Capitol, changed everything. Twitter has become Trump’s last superpower. Note: This edition of The Gang was recorded a few minutes before Twitter permanently suspended the @realDonaldTrump account.
Well, there is also Zoom. Its swappable background feature allows the ex-resident to broadcast to worshipers as if nothing has changed. That’s why he came back early from vacation, to pre-forgive his production staff and hire a shadow cabinet. Secretary of Streaming, Acting General Counsel, Secretary of Horror Stephen Miller, Secretary of Bacteria Giuliani.
Zoom lets you do this behind a subscription paywall, but now Trump + is competing with Disney +, Netflix, Apple +, and offerings designed to lock down the market until vaccines take hold. Or how about an ACA + bundle that gives you pre-existing coverage, the latest iPhone, and three + networks on a rotating basis to encourage competition for stream retention.
of the Gillmor Gang newsletter
The Gillmor Gang – Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live on Friday January 8, 2021.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang
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