The best thing about 2020 is we survived it. No need to say what the worst thing is, it’s hands down our collective stupidity in the choices we’ve made. That reality has forced us to refactor what we do moving forward.
If we had correctly understood the massive changes ahead, we would not be wondering when we will return to the old, new, or any normal. The normal is what got us here. Unlimited air travel, freedom to do whatever we wanted without regard to the impact it would have on anybody else. Nationalism. What the hell is that all about? Keeping us in, everybody else out.
Take Twitter for one. When it first emerged, it felt like a pipe dream realized. For me, it still feels that way. Good people like it, so do bad people. Bad as in 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? What about dramas? They’re sad, reward winners and losers? Do I wish Hollywood was only allowed to make romcoms? Well, yes I do.
But only if it doesn’t abridge my rights, my freedom to pursue happiness. So when I see Twitter turn into a cesspool, I look for someone to blame. Let’s start with the bad guys. But what if they have a point about something? Their motives may be suspect, or just plain evil. What am I doing reading them anyway. It’s not like I chose them to follow. Well, apparently I did, by listening to people who retweet what these folks spew.
Retweets are another one of these things I love about Twitter. Let’s say I follow someone whose perspective I admire, and they in turn retweet others who they admire. A social cloud forms with interesting characteristics. Implicitly, the pattern of retweets, @mentions, and likes can be plugged into readers or aggregators to reflect trends, emerging news, business analytics, and social dynamics of power, ethics, humor, and stature.
So it’s not like a follow of the bad actors, but it is like I follow their relative position in the stream of those I follow. I can and do rationalize this monitoring of other than the chosen social group as a necessary early warning system for trouble ahead. These signals can be used prophylactically to measure how our message is carrying, but a typical impact is to pigeonhole our views as fodder for those who wish us ill.
Net net, this countervailing energy reduces the sense of fun I have with the global network. If I had to choose no Twitter over this problem, I still choose Twitter. In the early days of social media, I had a front row seat in observing how these little signals could have a surprising impact on the concerns of the day, on the projection of ideas around the network to and with others who together built support, and sometimes, business through the collective group mind.
Has this been lost in the partisan nature of our daily political noise? Of course, just try saying anything about anything and watch the nasty trolls rev up their schtick. Not fun. Also not effective, because the pushback creates a new rhythm of Pee Wee Herman yeah-but-what-am-I dynamics. What to do? How about a @botmention that argues with tagged trolls but silently removes the noise from the feeds of those who @like the @bot tag.
Implementing this semi-public stream is already doable inside a private network, with the “cost” of joining the agreement to provide access to an internal view that makes the stream less noisy and more responsive. We’ve been experimenting with just such a private/public backchannel to support production of the Gillmor Gang, but I’m not here to promote that. More usefully, the network functions efficiently in concert with Twitter.
The events of 2020, and the years leading up to the election and pandemic breakout, make clear that the kind of social media spread we have seen has consequences we should have countered but in fact exacerbated. Yet even in the volatile wind down of the election are some signs of a rebound from playing the chaos card. Whatever you think of Twitter’s history of or lack of backbone development, Jack Dorsey’s red line in the sand was a much needed call to arms against Trump’s bullying.
Even if the actual technology was limited in effect, the application of any pushback at all was a signal of what the world might look like if the election went the other way. The first amplification of that subtle shift came from social media’s biggest customer, mainstream media: pointed pushback in White House press conferences, silent movie montages of Republican senators refusing to answer shouted hallway questions, networks cutting away from events when the falsehood level reached fake mass.
Mitch McConnell’s move to tie additional stimulus help to Trump’s attempt to punish Twitter by repealing Section 230 protection proved effective in running out the clock. It also moved the ball from Trump’s control to the hard numbers of January 20. The Georgia runoff on January 5, followed the next day by the attempt to challenge the electoral college Biden win and the storming of the Capitol, changed everything. Twitter became Trump’s last super power. Note: this edition of the Gang was recorded minutes before Twitter permanently suspended the @realDonaldTrump account.
Well, there is Zoom too. Its swappable background feature lets the ex-resident broadcast to the faithful as though nothing has changed. That’s why he came back from vacation early, to pre-pardon his production staff and hire a shadow cabinet. Secretary of Streaming, Chief Acting Legal Officer, Secretary of Horror Stephen Miller, Secretary of Bacteria Giuliani.
Zoom lets you do this behind a subscription paywall, but now Trump+ is competing against Disney+, Netflix, Apple+, and the bundles designed to lock-in the market until the vaccines take root. Or how about an ACA+ bundle that gives you pre-existing coverage, the latest iPhone, and any three + networks on a rotating basis to encourage competition for stream retention.
from the Gillmor Gang Newsletter
The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, January 8, 2021.
Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor
@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang