5TtRT: Medicare for all, Facebook, facts matter, Tesla, & privacy

Today’s topics include working towards Medicare for All, Facebook being terrible, reality vs. facts in politics, Elon Musk and Tesla, and how advertisers track literally everything about you.

I’m on vacation for two weeks, and I’m having a nice, quiet day after Christmas. We’re gonna go see the new Spider-Man movie this afternoon and then I’m gonna spend the rest of the day being lazy and not looking at the trashfire of news. I may just go ahead and play Minecraft all day. If I get motivated, I might clean a thing, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up if I were you.

Here’s some stuff to read.

5 Things to Read Today

5 Things to Read Today (12/6/18)

Today’s topics: France’s “Yellow Jacket” riots, a crime story, journalism, the Internet, and spambots.

Good reading here today. In particular, “Blood Cries Out” was a fascinating and well-reported story, but it’s pretty long, just so you’re forewarned. The BuzzFeed article is pretty interesting, too.

5TtRT: George H.W. Bush, YouTube, Tumblr & Other News

Today’s topics include the death of George H.W. Bush, along with YouTube’s terrible recommendation algorithms, Tumblr kicking all the porn off their site (which basically means Tumblr’s dying), police violence, an interactive from CNN outlining the timeline of the Trump Tower/Moscow thing, and a huge, international Netflix stand-up series coming on New Year’s Day.

George H. W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, died November 30, at the age of 94.

I don’t remember Bush I particularly well. I was pretty young when he was president, so I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. He got us into the Gulf War, though, and a lot of kids I knew at the time had their dads sent off to war for that.

The thing I remember most was that at the time, if you had satellite TV, you could find raw feeds from various news agencies on different channels, showing footage from the Gulf. It was basically b-roll that news agencies were streaming back to their stations to be chopped up, edited, and played later on in the background while anchors did their thing.

A friend of mine had those stations playing pretty much 24-7 in her house. She was watching it in case her dad popped up on screen.

Bush I lied about Iraqis killing babies in hospitals to keep America ginned up and in favor of his war effort.

Bush I also arranged for a black high school kid to be lead into selling crack in front of the White House, so that kid could be arrested and Bush could go on TV to tell the nation that the drug epidemic was so bad, people were selling crack in front of the White House. He used this propaganda to kick off his War on Drugs, which has gone on to destroy the lives of, fuck, I don’t even know how many people.

He also helped shepherd the ADA into law, which I mention because this is the real world and almost no one is entirely bad.

He also insisted he wouldn’t raise taxes, and when he realized his tax policy was ballooning the deficit, went ahead and raised taxes anyway. This arguably lost him re-election because Clinton took him to school over it in the elections, but hey, it was fiscally responsible. It might have been the last time you’ll see a fiscally responsible Republican.

5 Things to Read Today

Photo: President George Bush on the Texans sideline. Houston Texans Vs. New York Giants Reliant Stadium. Houston, Tx. Oct. 10, 2010, by AJ Guel. (Source and licensing.)

Trump’s trashtweeting again this morning…

Trump’s trashtweeting again this morning, which usually means some bad news (for him) is about to drop. Not always, but usually. Keep an eye out.

Donald Trump trashtweets, 10/16/18.

Trump’s trashtweeting again this morning, which usually means some bad news (for him) is about to drop. Not always, but usually. Keep an eye out.

5 Things to Read Today

Keep an eye on Trump’s fundraising and spending, because I highly, highly doubt that he’s getting that much money from his fanboys.

Meanwhile, go get your damn flu shot, people. Like 80,000 people died of the flu last year.

On the topic of Twitter likespam.

Twitter is about news and conversations that are happening right now, in the moment, about a given topic. And every new feature, or removal of an old feature, that Twitter has instituted in the last few years, has been about breaking the thread of that conversation. It boggles the mind that Twitter CEOs can be so blatantly ignorant of what their service does and how it’s used.

So, you may be aware, Twitter has a “like” thing, similar to Facebook. On a tweet, you’ll see a little heart you can click to “like” the tweet. Those hearts used to be stars, and they used to be called “favs,” and people used to use them basically like bookmarks. That changed a few years back, and no one was very fond of the change.

Twitter Likes

It wasn’t that big of a deal, but we’d all been using the feature one way and Twitter up and changed the whole thing, and it bunched up a lot of panties for awhile.

But, for the last couple of years, Twitter’s been doing this thing where if you “like” someone’s tweet, it’ll inject that tweet with a little note that you liked it into your followers’ Twitter stream.

Twitter Like Notes

Which is still… I mean, it’s annoying, but it’s not that big of a deal. “Likes” and “favs” were always public. You could always click through to someone’s Twitter profile and see their likes or favs if you wanted to. You just didn’t have to deal with them junking up your Twitter stream.

Here’s the thing though: If you follow a bunch of people on Twitter, it’s because you like or are interested in those people and/or what they have to say. And Twitter has a function called a “retweet,” where if you see a tweet that interests you for some reason, you can click “retweet,” and share that out to your followers. So if I’m following someone, and they retweet someone a few times and I like or am interested in what that new person says, I follow that new person, too. It doesn’t take very long for you to be following a lot of the same people as everyone else in your particular niche interests.

So, the retweet function tends to be pretty “in the moment” when folks on Twitter use it. You might see the same thing retweeted a few times, but it’s generally happening while that tweet is interesting or relevant, so it’s part of the topic of the moment. It helps you gauge interest.

“Likes,” however, get used differently. You “like” something because it’s funny or smart, or as a show of support, not because you necessarily want to show it to everyone else. Also, people like all kinds of random things, whereas they generally retweet on topic. So, you’re rolling through your Twitter timeline, and you generally tweet about politics or information security or fuzzy kittens or something. If you see something on your particular topic – politics or kittens or whatnot – you retweet it. Because it’s on topic for you. But as you’re scrolling, you may also like a bunch of things that have nothing to do with your usual topics.

And now suddenly your followers are being hassled with a bunch of off topic junk.

Worse, since your entire circle of followers are all pretty similar-minded, odds are good that they’re following a bunch of other similar-minded people who are all also going through their timelines, retweeting the relevant bits and liking random whatevers… but often all the same random whatevers. Because we’re all relatively similar, so we all think that little quip someone made was clever or funny.

The end result is that I spend the next three days with the same liked tweet showing up in my timeline over and over and over again as new people find it.

This doesn’t happen with retweets. It only happens with likes. It’s just a function of how people use the feature. And it is hella annoying.

There’s no real way to turn this off or stop it from happening. You can go through your timeline and use a dropdown menu on Twitter to tell Twitter that you don’t like a particular tweet. If you go through your timeline and do that for each of the liked tweets that have been injected into your timeline, Twitter will stop showing them to you for a few days. But they always, inevitably, like an outbreak of herpes, come back. I don’t know how it’s hitting everyone else, but I find it wildly frustrating.

There are a few workarounds to get rid of likespam (several methods listed here), but nothing that’s, y’know, user friendly for most folks.

The reason I’m telling you all this is that it points to an ongoing problem with Twitter management: The people who run Twitter have no goddamn idea how or why people use their service. They don’t listen to their users. They add features no one wants and refuse to add features everyone needs. They break functions everyone relies on, shift timelines to be algorithmic instead of chronological, and generally muck up everything related to how their users actually use Twitter.

Twitter is about news and conversations that are happening right now, in the moment, about a given topic. And every new feature, or removal of an old feature, that Twitter has instituted in the last few years, has been about breaking the thread of that conversation. It boggles the mind that Twitter CEOs can be so blatantly ignorant of what their service does and how it’s used.

And all of that is entirely aside from the fact that Twitter is doing nearly nothing to remove abusive users, allows their platform to boost nazis, and sundry other little issues that all lead directly to making Twitter the hellhole cesspool that it is.

#MPRraccoon: The Little Raccoon That Could

Yesterday afternoon, (what felt like) everyone in the world got together on Twitter to cheer on a small raccoon that had climbed the side of a 23 story building in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Yesterday afternoon, (what felt like) everyone in the world got together on Twitter to cheer on a small raccoon that had climbed the side of a 23 story building in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For a little while, everyone huddled around the #MPRraccoon hashtag, holding their breath and waiting to see if the little guy would make it.

FYI: The little guy made it. He started climbing down late last night, changed his mind at some point, and headed upwards again. Early this morning he made it to the roof of the building, where live traps with bait had been laid out, and he was captured. He’s going to get some care (if he needs it), and he’ll be released safely somewhere where he won’t bother anyone. Read all about it.

Also, here’s a gif of the little guy cresting the roof of the building, the reaction in a local newsroom when the raccoon makes it to the roof, and an update from the UBS building about the raccoon being safely caught for release.

It’s easy to sneer at something like this. “OMG, it’s just a raccoon,” sneerers say. “They’re awful, mean little rodents. They’re vermin,” and et cetera, et cetera. And that’s true enough. Raccoons are often nasty, aggressive little critters who kill things and get into your trash and make a nuisance of themselves.

But they’re also super cute, you guys.

Amusements aside, it’s interesting to look at why things like this happen on Twitter.

About the time I checked in on the hashtag, this tweet was the top result for anyone clicking on the tag on Twitter:

What you see here is a small raccoon perched on the window ledge of a very high building. It’s cute, and it looks a little concerned and tired.

It’s small, and human minds automatically interpret that as “young.” Human minds automatically empathize with young things – we’re hardwired to care for babies. Small animals trip all the same triggers that human babies do. Humans see small animals and our hindbrains go “BABY, OMG” and we want to take care of them. It’s why we have pets.

Also, as the photos showed, the raccoon was way, waaaay up high, on a rather small ledge, so it’s clearly not safe.

You click on the tag and the first thing you see is a fuzzy animal that your brain immediately interprets as “BABY IN DANGER.” And you’re hooked.

So now you’re following the hashtag on Twitter, and your immediate impulse is being reinforced by hundreds, and then thousands of other people who are experiencing the exact same thing, and empathizing with you while you experience it. If you’re tweeting about it yourself, as you’re almost certainly going to do, then you’re likely also getting lots of Twitter feedback in the form of comments, retweets and likes.

Receiving those – particularly if you’re not used to a lot of activity on your tweets – is positive reinforcement. And positive reinforcement gives you little dopamine hits. Dopamine is the pleasure drug in your head (it’s more than that, but for the sake of simplicity…). So you’re watching this thing happen, with tons of other people, who are all tickling your pleasure centers, and you’re completely emotionally invested in the situation, now.

Add to that the fact that this particular instance is completely innocent. There are no real shades of gray in this spectacle. It’s a small scared animal in a bad situation and you’re just cheering for it to escape the bad situation safely. There’s almost no way to be the bad guy here. You can cheer for this little guy, and there’s no real way to feel bad for doing so.

It’s innocent and harmless, a completely black and white situation with clear good and bad outcomes, and there is precious little of that going around these days.

Plus, there’s community. You’re one among thousands participating in this event, and more, it’s an event that escapes all our current divides and tribalism issues. Everyone is cheering this little raccoon on: Republicans and Democrats, straight people, gay people, religious people of all sorts, people from around the whole world, and none of the things that usually divide us apply to the situation we’re rooting for.

We’re all in this together, rooting for a clear, innocent, good outcome, and nothing we usually argue about matters. And something like that is basically pure heroin right now.

Of course we all spent 12+ hours rooting for a masked rat on the side of a building. Society – particularly in America – is positively desperate for a reason to get together on something. Strife and stress are not good for us, and our brains seek ways to make them stop. We want to get along. It’s a built-in feature. So when something comes along, like an adventurous little raccoon, that gives us a way to do that, we’re all in. Continue reading “#MPRraccoon: The Little Raccoon That Could”