Nature abhors a vacuum (and so do extremists looking to yell about things). So, of course, everyone feeling lost without Parler are looking for somewhere to go. Enter Neo-Nazis and Telegram.
Here’s Cam Wilson, reporting for Gizmondo:
With Parler down for the time being, those banned from mainstream platforms, free speech advocates, the far-right and — as is often the case — those who are some combination of the three have been looking for a new safe space online. And Neo-Nazis are rolling out the red carpet for these disgruntled netizens by inviting them to their Telegram channels, in hopes of winning them over to their cause.
Gizmodo Australia has also seen users in Neo-Nazi chats discuss trying to radicalise former Parler members.
“Redpill these kids”, one administrator said in an international Neo-Nazi chat, and included a link to one of the new chats for Parler refugees.
This won’t end well. Misinformation, propaganda, and more has spread for years on WhatsApp, contributing to some truly horrible things (like lynchings in India), not to mention rampant fake news in the 2019 Brazilian election. Info spreads from group chat to group chat, often pushed along by well organised campaigners, and it’s all incredibly difficult to track.
If Neo-Nazi groups manage to swell their ranks on Telegram, things could even more extreme in the US – quietly and then very loudly.
UPDATE: Telegram Finally Takes Down Neo-Nazi Channels – Ali Breland, reporting for Mother Jones.
The world isn’t exactly loveable at the moment. Still, there are still things that are worth our time. One of them is Anand Giridharadas’s interview with Ann Heberlein. Heberlein wrote a new biography of Hannah Arendt, the wonderful political philosopher that everyone fully intends to read at some point (myself included). Anand and Ann touched on everything from evil to forgiveness to love.
They, of course, touched on everything happening in the US right now. Heberlein summarised Trump’s talent for mobilising the masses well:
[Donald Trump] has been exceptionally good at speaking to what Nietszche called “ressentiment,” that is, a feeling of inferiority and powerlessness, of being forgotten, despised, and invisible.
The ressentiment creates hatred. Hatred towards those who are considered to be part of some kind of establishment and hatred because of perceived or real historical wrongdoing. All totalitarian movements in history, such as fascism or communism, have addressed that kind of ressentiment, and every kind of totalitarian movement in the future will do the same, regardless of political color. Despite the fact that Trump belongs in every sense of the word to the establishment — he owns economic assets; he enjoys political power and has the capacity to shape the image of our common reality — he has allied himself with the ressentiment-driven fractions of society.
A dictatorship is not created overnight. A genocide or a civil war does not arise out of thin air. It requires preparation in the form of lies, propaganda, and a conscious division into “us and them,” belonging and non-belonging.
The painful thing about this is that, despite the danger and the anxiety, we need to find ways to love the world in which we live:
[Arendt] believes that it is a duty to love the world. Amor mundi, “love of the world,” means caring for life so that it can continue to exist. We must be able to love the world as it is, in all its brokenness and imperfection. To achieve that requires hope, hope that change is possible, hope for the future.
Hope is necessary. Without hope, without the ability to imagine a life beyond its present circumstances, a person may be prone to give up. But someone who has the ability to embrace that hope may have a capacity to survive atrocities and inhumanity.
I read a cute, albeit depressing, comic on Twitter this morning. A pastel stegosaurus laments its ability to imagine the world being crushed by a giant rock vs its inability to imagine the world becoming a “fairer, kinder place”.
And, you know, same. Sometimes. But it’s always going to be easier to imagine some random, catastrophic event because they don’t require any effort on our part. One day, a meteor just hits us and bam, no more world. The world becoming fairer, kinder, better calls for a lot of work on all our parts. That calls for hope and it calls for love.
Love and hope are choices. You wake up every day and rededicate yourself to both. And you try and build reasons to do it again tomorrow.
It’s been a few days since terrorists stormed the US Capitol building but it’s hard to believe it’s over. And there’s good reason for that. Rusty Foster argued as much in her excellent newsletter Today in Tabs:
My advice is: prepare yourself. This isn’t over. Democracy didn’t win yesterday. A mob interrupted the transfer of political power, made a lot of social media content, then went home with no consequences. After the mob voluntarily released the Capitol back to the legitimate government, over 50% of the Republican House delegation voted in support of their goals. Trump still occupies the White House. The House and Senate have adjourned until after the inauguration. This isn’t over.
Everything that happened in the Capitol sticks in your mind but this is what I keep coming back to:
After the mob voluntarily released the Capitol back to the legitimate government, over 50% of the Republican House delegation voted in support of their goals.
That’s incredible. People will (disingenuously) try and argue that Republicans did it the right way — by voting. But, the reality is, political leaders have systematically undermined democratic processes, turned rival politicians (and the system itself) into enemies to be destroyed, and let loose with countless dog whistles to wink-wink-nudge-nudge get violent.1
The state has long held a monopoly on violence through things like the police and the military. Republicans have torn down the state and, rhetorically speaking, claimed the power of violence itself. It’s no wonder that it was then turned onto the physical manifestation of the state. Violence is justified in retrospect: a successful rebellion turns its perpetrators into heroic freedom fighters.2 They only become terrorists in defeat. You can’t disavow them while also supporting their goals.
You don’t get to be anti-murder but pro-stabbing.
And that’s ignoring the fact that Trump himself literally tear-gassed innocent people for a photo op and threaten Black Lives Matter protesters with violence. ↩
Paraphrasing my intelligent and insightful partner here. ↩
It speaks to something Trump is incredibly good at. Unfortunately, that something is one that liberals and progressives have long found it hard to stop. Here’s journalist Isobel Hilton, talking about Trump and his supporters on Monocle 24’s fantastic Foreign Desk podcast:
That’s his political genius. He keeps politics in a state of radical indecision because nothing is settled. It can’t move on. And his supporters are stuck in anger and denial and that is extremely destabilising. I think we’ve learned in the past four years that this is a mode of political operation that liberals find very hard to counter. If you’re faced with strong feelings based on lies, it’s very difficult to make an argument against that if you’re operating within, if you like, the norms of reality. And I don’t think that’s going to go away. And it’s going to bedevil certainly US politics, with a contagion around the world for some time.
It isn’t something new in US politics: it wasn’t so long ago that the US and a few eager allies jumped into Iraq, missiles blazing, for a disastrous war they justified with a lie. A whole lot of people on both sides of politics where all for it and dissenters had a hard time mounting a case against, again, a straight-up fabrication. Conservatives have been a lot better at framing debates for a long time and, for whatever reason, the mainstream Left has been eager to play along.1
That said, this dabbling with unreality has reached it’s zenith (or nadir; both work) in the West with Trump. And it’s not going anywhere. It works too well. Liberals and progressives need to figure out how they’re going to counter it when Trump, or the next Trump, pushes things even further.
Nor is Trump’s brand of genius novel on the world stage. Strongmen types who peddle unreality abound throughout time and across the globe so it would be a mistake to think that this is a US-centric problem (American exceptionalism be damned). ↩
In one America, you get killed by sleeping in your car, selling cigarettes or playing in your backyard. In another America, you get to storm the Capitol, and no tear gas, no massive arrests, none of that.
I miss the cinema. Deep seats, popcorn, an overpriced bottle of water. That particular sound of a gaggle of people chattering that’s both indistinct but entirely itself that slowly fades out as the lights dim. Group gasps and laughs. Full house or dozens of empty seats. Going to see a film in the middle of the day and being confused, genuinely confused, when you leave and there’s still daylight. I miss it all.
2020 wasn’t a year for cinemas but it was still a year for movies. Here’s every one I watched (and 2019’s entry).
Look at the photos on my phone and you’ll find the following: fleeting moments of beauty captured well, fleeting moments of beauty missed, and fleeting moments of beauty captured yet out of focus. You’ll see the big things I never want to forget and small things happening in one room that I wanted to show my partner in another room (which we both promptly forgot). You can scroll by countless holiday snaps and yet more attempts to capture the perfect sunrise with varying results with a flick of your thumb. There are so many photos of my cat, Tim, that a family member once described him, with complete sincerity, as the most “well documented” pet she had ever come across.
My photos app, in brief, provides a view into some of the brightest moments in my life. It reveals the things I found interesting, the things I thought worthwhile, and people I love. The app collapses years of my life into a few rows of images, easily digestible. And it rarely gets opened.
The details may differ but chances are you rarely look at your photos as well. How many great moments are buried within the depths of your recent photos?
Every now and then I decide to unearth some of those moments. I square my shoulders, cast my eyes over my digital horizons, and declare that I, cory zanoni, while get my photographic shit together. And, you know, look at some photos.
This has born some fruit. I printed off and framed some shots from a trip to Japan. Even hung them on the wall (like a hero). And it’s great! They’re a passive reminder of a fantastic trip. Walking by them each day is a treat. It has helped make my home feel more personable, more intimate.
That passivity is key. Photos are low effort things. You rarely sit down and think, “You know, I’m going to spend an hour just reminiscin’”. Apple have done some good work here: features like Memories, which generate little videos or collections based on themes like location or people, surface jolts of nostalgia for you to view without effort. But you still need to open the app or rely on notifications to get you in there. It’s not quite the low-key passivity that makes photos a joy.
That’s where the Photos widget in iOS 14 shines. I’ve had it on my homescreen for a few weeks and it’s a delight. There was the photo of a friend and I wearing matching t-shirts, the album from a trip to the zoo with my friends and their young daughter, a multitude of shots of partner (and, of course, the cat). I’ve messaged multiple people about the moments it has surfaced, reconnecting me with friends and strengthening the shared memories upon which great relationships are based. It makes me smile every day.
Small moments of loveliness
This widget, and other things like it, help change the relationship I have with my phone for the better.
There was a time, long ago, when smartphones were a revolutionary shift in the way people interacted with the world. They collapsed distances, provided new ways of being with people, and opened troves of information.
Now my phone is more banal. It’s an appliance. A great appliance, one I use all the time for a variety of reasons, but an appliance all the same. At its worst, when I’m at my most unguarded, it’s a black hole of attention.
Having a small square that feeds me fantastic memories changes that relationship. My phone is the best tool I have to capture the moments that make life a treat but it’s far too easy to forget those moments were ever recorded.
The photos widget takes all of those photos and adds them to a place I look at almost more than any other — my home screen. It’s a small thing, the widget, but the thing it facilitates is special. In the same way that covering a wall at home with photos from my trip to Japan made my home feel more like a home, this widget has made my phone feel more like my own.
It’s a shift away from the utilitarian. The things we own, at their best, can help enrich our lives. I took all of these photos to remember something; making that easier is powerful. Your phone might be an appliance like any computer or even a TV or a fridge — but a fridge is better with some pictures and a nice magnet or two.
Austin Mann’s reviews of iPhone cameras are beautiful. Gorgeous photos, great write ups. His take on the iPhone 12 Pro is no different.
There’s always one point or one shot that makes me think that maybe, just maybe, I need to splash out on a Pro version of an iPhone after all. Here’s this years:
Just like last year, when I first compared non-Night mode shots to Night mode shots, the results are not even in the same league. What software is doing with Night mode is truly a night and day difference. In one test, I found the Ultra Wide with Night mode on the iPhone 12 Pro captured a beautiful image where the Ultra Wide without Night mode on the iPhone 11 Pro rendered a mostly black frame full of noise.
I thought the iPhone 12 Pro version of this shot turned out gorgeous and I can’t wait to see how it looks as a B&W fine art print on the wall. Stop and consider that for a moment… because of Night mode and computational algorithms we went from “completely unusable dark frame” to “I want that on my wall.”
Check out those photos. Special things happen when great gear combines with great ability.
There’s a deep hypocrisy at the heart of social media. Companies built the platforms. They outsourced making those platforms worthwhile to us, the users. But they didn’t provide us with the tools to moderate those platforms and they’ve walked away from the responsibility of doing it themselves.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like built great swimming pools. They invited everyone over and told people to, somehow, make their own water and their own fun. And people did. They made their own water and built their own games and they had fun. Then people started pissing in the pool. They pissed at ever great volumes and viscosity.
And the people who made the pools didn’t do anything about it.1
No tweeter is an island
Here’s an under-appreciated reality of social platforms: every user is dependent on every other user. Twitter, Facebook, and the like may treat you as the end user — they ask you what you’re doing, your newsfeed is yours and yours alone, populated by a myriad of things from elsewhere for your consumption and, if you deign it so, a like or a comment. But, without everyone else, you’d have nothing.
My enjoyment of Twitter depends exclusively on the people I’ve chosen to follow. Their thoughts, their tastes define my experience. That extends to who my followers choose to follow, too — I see all their retweets and quote tweets.
Every social media platform, like society as a whole, is a cascading layers of interdependency. But this isn’t necessarily reflected in the design of these platforms (despite presenting you with a million faces, most isolate you into a narrow feed) or, more importantly, their rules and approaches to moderation, which focus on governing the behaviour of individuals and how individuals treat each other.
Social media platforms are an ecosystem. Each individual person matters. You don’t feel that when these companies talk about moderation, though. When someone abuses someone else, for example, there’s no sense of what that abuse means in the broader context of the ecosystem — it’s about one person acting on another. By focusing on that, you’re missing the full picture.
Here’s how Judith Butler describes the effects of violence in society in her book The force of nonviolence (which I’ll be quoting throughout this article):
It is not simply that an individual abrogates his or her conscience or deeply held principles in acting violently, but that certain “ties“ required for social life, that is, the life of a social creature, are imperiled by violence.
A social media platform’s value depends on people. Every time one user attacks another, they’re not only attacking the victim. They’re attacking the point and vibrancy of the site itself.
Soylent Tweet is people
Here’s the problem social media platforms need to solve: they need to convince people that every person, at their core, has equal value. They need to promote, both implicitly and explicitly, equality.
Abuse on social has a few goals but it usually boils down to silencing someone. You’re trying to control the discussion and the person; you want them to stop talking or to leave permanently.
Every platform worth its salt already prohibits violence, either in form of incitement or direct abuse. But those rules only protect people who are thought to have value to the platform.
Look at this way: the ultimate end point of abuse is driving someone away from the site. You’ve made it untenable to stay or you’ve convinced them so thoroughly that you don’t belong. A rule saying “Don’t abuse people“ will only stop you if you think the people being abused belong. You’ll only stop abusing someone if they’ll be missed if they leave.
Butler frames this as grievability: who will be grieved if they die. Those deemed to be grievable are protected from violence. Those who aren’t grievable? Not so much. They’re already as good as dead so no harm done if they die.
A life has to be grievable — that is, its loss has to be conceptualisable as a loss — for an interdiction against violence and destruction to include life among those living beings to be safeguarded from violence.
This helps us understand who social companies value. They tell you.
Donald Trump is the obvious example. He flouts Twitter’s rules on a semi-regular basis. He creates an environment of violence by targeting different social groups and legitimises the abuse of those groups.
And he hasn’t been banned. Not only hasn’t he not been banned, Twitter reinforced their rules around telling people to die because he was on the receiving end.
The distinction between populations that are worth violently defending and those that are not implies that some lives are simply considered more valuable than others.
Donald Trump is worth more than other people to Twitter. So he’s protected.
This approach — of some people being worth grieving and others not — trickles down throughout social. Think of all the people whose abuse isn’t worth removing or the abusers who haven’t done enough to warrant recrimination. It’s clear who’s absence would be missed most.
This distinction was built into social from day one:
After all, if a life, from the start, is regarded as grievable, then every precaution will be taken to preserve and to safeguard that life against harm and destruction.
Social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are stupendously big. It would take a huge amount of effort and resourcing to effectively moderation. But that’s only true because they were built with a laissez-faire rule set from the start. That replicates the status quo of wider society — a place where some people are more grievable than others.
Social platforms won’t be able to grapple with abuse and violence unless they rebuild from the ground up under the assumption that everyone is grievable. That’s the challenge.
Dehumanisation is a feature, not a bug
Now, to be fair to social companies, they’re swimming against the tide here.2 They’re operating in a society that has spent a lot of time and money dehumanising whole groups of people.
How many times have media outlets or leaders implied (or just straight up said) that immigrants are monsters on their way to destroy “our way of life“? Take any marginalised group anywhere and they’ve been called less-than by a power that wants to control, subvert, or destroy them.
It’s how people justify violence. It’s woven into the very fabric of society and how people debate.
That’s the environment in which social platforms exist. And the way they present people, you know, real people, doesn’t help. Every person on, say, Facebook is presented as a piece of content. They arrive to you as a small profile picture and a mix of words and images. They’re pixels. All of their depth and humanness are collapsed into a thing presented and served to you to consume. They’re dehumanised by design. Who cares if you attack them? They’re not even a person. They’re just a piece of content.
There are a lot of factors at play here. There’s the wider world where dehumanisation is an everyday rhetorical play. There’s the layout and design of social platforms. There’s a complete lack of awareness of how dependent we are on every other user of social.
This all combines to make it unclear what’s at stake when abuse and violence runs rife.
Without an understanding of the conditions of life and livability, and their relative difference, we can know neither what violence destroys nor why we should care.
A victim of optimism
We can spend all day diagnosing the root of the problems we see on social media. But one of the causes is how optimistic the companies building these platforms were about the value of “connection“ or “connectedness“. That is, they assume that the more connected the world is, the better.
The problem: they haven’t reckoned with the fact that a core part of connection is the possibility of negativity. Yes, we’re all dependent on one another but that dependency is defined by the potential for hostility:
That relationality is, of course, defined in part by negativity, that is, by conflict, anger, and aggression. The destructive potential of human relations does not deny all relationality, and relational perspectives cannot evade the persistence of this potential or actual destruction of social ties. As a result, relationality is not by itself a good thing, a sign of connectedness, an ethical norm to be posited over and against destruction: rather, relationality is a vexed and ambivalent field in which the question of ethical obligation has to be worked out in light of a persistent and constitutive destructive potential.
That potential is never going away. The challenge is to build a system where it’s acknowledged, understood, and channeled:
Indeed, when the world presents as a force field of violence, the task of nonviolence is to find ways of living and acting in that world such that violence is checked or ameliorated, or its direction turned, precisely at moments when it seems to saturate that world and offer no way out.
Let’s add another layer of complexity. We’re all dependent on each other. As such, we’re dependent on the structures that bring us together. A structure that doesn’t acknowledge how it facilitates violence on a basic level, or even react well to the violence it facilitates, will make us feel uneasy.
We’ll feel vulnerable.
We are never simply vulnerable, but always vulnerable to a situation, a person, a social structure, something upon which we rely and in relation to which we are exposed. Perhaps we can say that we are vulnerable to those environmental and social structures that make our lives possible, and that when they falter, so do we. To be dependent implies vulnerability: one is vulnerable to the social structure upon which one depends, so if the structure fails, one is exposed to a precarious condition.
This precariousness can lead to a whole lot of violence, especially in a time and space where people are being systematically dehumanised and thus okay to attack. Leaders have, time and time again, harnessed a sense of vulnerability to direct a population against supposed enemies.
People feel exposed. Leaders direct that feeling against different groups of people to gain power. Violence and abuse follow.
Social platforms were built with the assumption that more connection is a good thing. They didn’t reckon with the realities of connection and, as such, they didn’t built systems robust enough to manage connections. That weakness left people feeling exposed, which itself can encourage yet more violence.
To top it off, their moderation approaches explicitly and implicitly tell us who they value more and who’s worth protecting from violence. And it’s rarely those on the receiving end.
Time for a rebuild
I don’t have a solution here. Not a concrete one, anyway. Social platforms need to be rebuilt if they want to do away with, or even minimise, abuse and violence. They’re incapable of dealing with it as is. (You could say the same about society as a whole, if you want.)
The fix depends on what we want: do we want social media platforms that are the same as they are now but more welcoming to vulnerable groups, more open to discussion, and less dehumanising? Or do we want platforms that radically re-imagine what a world without abuse or violence could be?
If we want the latter, it’s not enough to say “Just ban the abusers“ (assuming that we accept that forcibly removing someone from a platform if a form of violence3). Bans make sense in our current social platforms but no amount of violence, no matter how morally just you can make it seem, can create a world without violence:
When any of us commit acts of violence, we are, in and through those acts, building a more violent world… Quite apart from assiduous efforts to restrict the use of violence as means rather than an end, the actualisation of violence as a means can inadvertently become its own end, producting new violence, producing violence anew, reiterating the license, and licensing further violence.
No amount of driving people off of a social media platform for “just“ reasons will stop people from driving people away from those platforms through abuse. The former just validates the latter as the ultimate way of controlling the platform.4
Social platforms aren’t special. They’re a reflection of our own societies and a reflection of their own assumptions and tools. If they want to build spaces without abuse and violence, they can’t use abuse or violence to get there. They need a commitment to equality.
Most forms of violence are committed to inequality, whether or not that commitment is explicitly thematised.
It’s hard to imagine what that would look like. There’s so much violence in the world that it’s hard to see we’d get to a world without violence without using violence to get there. That’s the trick, really. That’s what keeps us stuck.
How do you stop abuse on social, the goal of which is removing people from the platform, without forcibly removing the abusers? Maybe my wanting to find an answer to that question is my own misguided optimism.
Social companies built swimming pools. They invited people over and told them to make their own water. Somehow, against all logic, they did. They were optimistic. But then people started pissing in the pool and social companies didn’t do anything about it.
It’s hard to get piss out of water once it’s in there. Maybe it’s time to just build a new pool.
Credit to my lovely partner for the pool analogy. ↩
Not least of all because they’re tech companies — not moral philosophy or moral ethics companies. ↩
There’s a difference between driving someone off, say, Twitter through abuse and banning someone for breaking rules. But the the latter is the equivalent of state-sanctioned violence. ↩
A counterpoint: there are some amazing and lovely online communities that have been forged through moderators with hair-trigger bans. They generally, in my experience, pop up in the comment sections of websites with a niche, or at least narrow, focus. Draconian moderation policies can lead to vibrant and robust communities. The question becomes one of scale: it doesn’t. And it mightn’t work when you add layer upon layer of wildly divergent view points. It does open up a secondary question, though: are super-massive social media platforms practical? Or even desirable? Probably not, no. ↩
Siri just wants to help. That’s all. Siri can offer a hand with a few things, sure, but their eagerness outstrips their usefulness.
It’s easy enough to invoke Apple’s AI assistant: just say “Hey Siri” and up they pop, ready to set a timer or answer a question or whatever. But Siri often jumps the gun. Ever a keen bean, they often interject for seemingly no reason at all.
I’ve already documented a few cases. Here’s part two of “Things that have set off Siri”.
“Where’s the cat?”
The vacuum, again. (I guess it kind of makes an Sssss sound?)
“What was that?”
“It’s such a good tweet.” (Thankfully this rarely comes up.)
“Don’t be silly, it’s a skillet.”
“Siri’s bad enough as it is.” (This one hurt.)
The kitchen tap running.
“Could you throw me the tissue box please?”
“I’m so mad.” (Siri popping in with “I’m listening” really didn’t help.)
“So I said to mum…”
“This all sounds mighty suspicious to me.” (Siri: officially sus.)