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“We’re committing Twitter to increase the health and civility of conversation” (twitter.com/jack)
164 points by dankohn1 on March 2, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 224 comments

Today, Twitter is a planetary-scale hate machine. By which I don't mean "people post hateful things on Twitter." I mean literally generates hate, as in, put a bunch of people with diverse perspectives on Twitter and by the end of the day they hate each other more than when they started. Common ground might have existed, but they won't find it, because Twitter, like any arms dealer, works better when they fight. It even benefits from collateral damage, when they hurt people they didn't specifically intend to hurt.

Through its core design—short messages, retweets, engagement metrics—Twitter incapacitates the safeguards necessary for civil discussion. It eliminates context, encourages us to present each other out of context, prevents us from explaining ourselves, rewards the most incendiary messages and most impulsive reactions, drives us to take sides and build walls.

If Twitter is going to foster healthy conversation, it will have to change fundamentally. It won't be a matter of tuning some filters and tweaking some ranking algorithms. A big part of it will involve making us the customer, not the product (Zeynep Tufekci: https://twitter.com/zeynep/status/965937392942305280).

Regretfully I agree. There’s a lot I like about Twitter, but it’s clear — just reading my own feed — that for many it’s primarily about seeking that quick fix of outrage. I get carried away too, retweeting some screenshot of someone being an ass in a discussion about gun control or whatever, and later I feel ashamed.

Twitter is the closest thing to Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984. Scroll through your feed for two minutes and build up a righteous anger about how stupid the leftists/NRA/FBI/reactionaries/whoever really are.

"Twitter is the closest thing to Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984. "

That's a great analogy. I almost tweeted this. Almost.

I tweeted it.

You will be hated.

<3 I don't hate that person. <3


Edit: <(^_^)>

> Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate”

That's what I think of the top popularity celebrity accounts. They show us some message, millions of people see it and then some of them post agreeing/disagreeing tweets. There's no new information in them. It's just shouting into the void, where someone/something sometimes responds with a knee jerk, not because they want a conversation specifically.

It's two minutes of hate with people hating for/against the idea sitting in rooms separated by a thin wall so they can hear each other.

> Twitter is the closest thing to Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate” in 1984.

I guess this means that Orwell was too much of an optimist. If we only could reduce Twitter usage to mere two minutes a day...

I see outrage - often inflated - far more often than I see legitimate hate. I also see a lot of naivete; the type that sucks up propaganda and echo shamelessly.

Today, Twitter is a planetary-scale hate machine. By which I don't mean "people post hateful things on Twitter." I mean literally generates hate, as in, put a bunch of people with diverse perspectives on Twitter and by the end of the day they hate each other more than when they started.

Reminds me of this William Burroughs excerpt

At any given time recording devices fix the nature of absolute need and dictate the use of total weapons--Like this: Take two opposed pressure groups--Record the most violent and threatening statements of group one with regard to group two and play back to group two--Record the answer and take to back to group one--Back and forth between opposed pressure groups--This process is known as "feed back"--You can see it operating in any bar room quarrel--In any quarrel for that matter--Manipulated on a global scale feeds back nuclear war and nova

Nicky Case has made a lot of excellent games/lessons, but 'We Become What We Behold' is one of his best. The player takes the role of a photographer creating a social conflict to promote TV viewership. Things escalate rather too far, and the result is horribly realistic.

It's nothing that will be novel to you after that Burroughs quote, but it's still awfully poignant to be the one making it happen.


“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples - while judging ourselves by our best intentions." -GWB

Now add in a complex network of shared ban lists that help ensure that, so far as possible, the two groups never interact except through people on their side repeating the nastiest, most hostile, most decontextualized messages from the other side, and watch the fireworks...

>Through its core design—short messages, retweets, engagement metrics—Twitter incapacitates the safeguards necessary for civil discussion.

Which is ironic because, not long ago, people were praising Twitter's character limit as a means of enhancing civil and intelligent discussion, believing it would force people to carefully think about and utilize each character, and eliminate wasteful verbiage.

But it turns out brevity is only the soul of wit for those who have their wits about them. Go figure.

"As simple as possible, but no simpler" is a great dictum.

Unfortunately, Twitter has no concept of "but no simpler." And I'm not sure there are any meaningful insights on controversial topics which can be expressed in <140 characters. Certainly there are none which can be conveyed to a hostile audience, since hedges and caveats are the first things sacrificed for concision.

Social media already rewards brevity with attention, we don't need maximum lengths. The good conversations should have happened on Facebook (but it's for people who already agree with you), Reddit (but it rewards pandering to the masses), or Tumblr (but it's designed to connect you with people who will threaten to murder you).

For some people even the 140 characters were too much, so they started retweeting hashtags instead. And the conversation gradually evolved to an exchange of screams...

#onlyMe! #notYou! #myProblemsMatter! #yoursDont! #killYourself! #killEveryone! #etc

Note that they changed it to 280. It's possible to express a slightly more nuanced view in a tweet now. You've got room for a brief hedge or caveat along with your main point.

What's amazing was that when they introduced this change, a lot of dedicated Twitter addicts hated those long tweets with a passion, as if someone had cut their favorite cocaine with chalk. Now they can barely remember what it was like.

Twitter rots the brain. With every doubling of the message length, they will reduce the harmfulness of the product, bur also remove its addictive appeal at the same time. So every business metric they have tells them not to do it.

> Unfortunately, Twitter has no concept of "but no simpler."

I would extend this to most of modern Western civilization. The world is an incredibly complex place, but it's pretty hard to find anyone on either side of the numerous partisan debates that realize it.

I would suggest this may be false equivalence. In the US, we have one party which insists on adherence to a few key ideas, and heretics will be outcast. The other is a much more diverse collection of people with a relatively more diverse set of ideas.

Unsurprisingly, the latter party is more comfortable with the idea that there aren’t simple solutions to important problems, while the former nominated a demagogue who for the most part can’t escape his soundbite politics.

Oh, you'll get no disagreement from me that the Democrats are superior to the Republicans, but they're both so far from being qualified to lead it's pathetic. It's doubly frustrating to open a newspaper and read about everyone peeing their pants about the risks from the scary Russians, who are not much more than a two bit annoyance if it wasn't for their nuclear arsenal, when the real threat to not just the US but the entire world, a behemoth 90% created by the West, barely gets a mention. At least the geniuses who planned this out could have had a backup plan in place for the scenario where they didn't magically transform into a democratic utopia. Where do these naive ideas come from in the first place?

Unfortunately, looks like I've been given a time out again, I guess to reconsider if it's appropriate to hold the opinions I do.

Brevity is the soul of getting people to read your shit.

- nuance



It might work if the limit were more extreme, like: “160 characters per day; make them count”.

This actually happened to me recently. While I didn’t come out of the situation with “hate”, it provided me a feeling I’ve not before felt on social media.

In discussing a topic with someone back and forth, the conversation devolved quickly into insults from the opposing end, which in turn fueled my discontent for “their side”. However I usually don’t ever engage conversations of this sort online, so my mere participation surprised me more than anything. However, it took a short “cool down” period for me to reassess my feelings and humanize this person in my head more than I had previously. I’m not happy about my participation, but it certainly speaks to your point.

Edit: To add to this, as I realize I didn't address Twitter directly, I strongly believe it was the character limit and short messages that prevented both parties from offering a longer, thought out discussion with more source-backed statements. I'm fully aware that perhaps this means Twitter isn't the platform for discussing "hot topics", but it happens a lot nonetheless so it's certainly an interesting conversation.

Look, it's already fucked. You are talking in a black room via robotic voices, all non verbal communications channels stripped - with twitter there is a harsh beep that silences you or the other speaker every fifteen seconds.

Who in his right mind would conduct meaningful conversations in such manner... no wonder that even plain email ends up so many times misunderstood, even if I pack it with smiling emojis, there's a good chance that the other party attribute this to cynicysm (or vice versa).

At least in the "old times" snail mail made you sit down and think, you could not fire and forget a message because you had to sit down, write it down, put it into an envelope, go to the post office, buy the stamp, write the address and then go back home.

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

― Mark Twain

That quote is a good indicator of what the quality of the average quick insta-message will be.

As much I can see every single point you make in my daily tweeting, this is ignoring all the positive things happening.

On twitter, I also see:

- people helping each others

- people apologizing (yes, it happens)

- people sharing creations, ideas and news

- people encouraging each others

It's not all flowers and rainbows, but let's not forget about the good parts of it.

Twitter is not a hate machine.

People have a lot of hate in themself, and they just use whatever convenient medium there is to express it.

I would actually more complain about twitter being riddle with bots, advertisers and scammers.

Certainly all these things exist! And they are beautiful.

But every platform amplifies certain behaviours more than others. The question is, which way does Twitter lean, on balance? Think about all the times you've seen people disagree. After interacting on Twitter, how often do they grow together vs. further apart? Come away holding each other in respect vs. contempt?

Think about all the times you've seen people disagree. After interacting on LIFE, how often do they grow together vs. further apart? Come away holding each other in respect vs. contempt?

People on the road, queing at the bank ?

And IRL, the system is a safe gard because being a jerk can lead to worse consequences.

But that's not twitter's fault.

what a naive worldview! it is most definitely their fault. i worked there. there are giant televisions showing surging click counts and impressions. this translates to revenue almost linearly. matter of fact anything you did that had a negative material impact on revenue, such as bot detection would be stuck in reviewboard for eternity.

to a first approximation, all the good kind people you talk about simply do not tweet that often. they mostly spend time with their families, read books, go on vacation, do research, write papers etc -thats where the good stuff they share so infrequently comes from. good stuff takes a while to germinate, it doesn’t pour out of you.

whereas the high frequency impressions generated by 24/7/365 vitriolic hatemongers, the nra & their supporting bots who have the gall to tell the classmates of the kids who died “they couldn’t care less” - those impressions and their likes and rebuttals go straight to the bottom line. Hate needs to be fed. I don’t particularly care if you like or retweet a happy incident I posted. I am already happy, I am just sharing that happiness. Theres no revenue model there. You will actively bankrupt yourself if you believe in the goodness of strangers like me. Whereas if you give a megaphone to the hatemongers, you will be flooded with bots and viral clicks and hate filled imagery and millions of impressions in a few minutes.

i will leave you with a rather strange yet true observation- some of the people whom I’d vouch for without question, incredibly nice and honest approachable engineers, tweeted exactly twice - once when they joined the org, and then on the day they quit.

I think your comment is valuable, especially given your first-hand knowledge, but there was no reason to insult GP by starting it with "what a naive worldview!"

> "Twitter is not a hate machine."

I agree. It's an amplifier. And the unfortunate thing is that many people are so different that it mostly amplifies distrust, dislike, misunderstandings, etc. -- and turns those things into hate.

Twitter is mostly a reflection of the way you use it. I had used 3 accounts to this day, and while i did encounter many hateful tweets, that's only a fraction of it.

Most of the stuff i encountered were very self centered, but not hateful.

I would love to be able to follow people for those things. But I can't. Because the same people's whose works and thoughts I like keep sharing news clickbait, socialite posers and hollow moralizing.

Well-said. The more I see from Twitter, the more I try to distance myself from it. I think a combination of today's political environment and the nature of the internet (pseudoanonymity and not being able to interact with humans face-to-face) and Twitter's short, pithy format creates the perfect storm for all kinds of nonsense.

I know a lot of people (typically young, like me) for whom this kind of discourse is normal. Shouting people down is normal. Shunning them if they in any way disagree if normal. Especially online, it's impossible to hold even a slightly different point of view than someone without being considered an immediate mortal enemy.

I've been reading books more, including reading things I disagree with. It's difficult for me, but it's getting easier to look at things calmly and rationally. I'm working through a book now by someone who has a different (but valid!) view than I do, and instead of getting upset, I'm taking notes and trying to faithfully represent their argument, as well as trying to take the arguments apart and evaluate them. I think I'll still end up disagreeing with them at the end, but it's helpful to know the counterarguments to something you support and to be able not only to faithfully represent them, but rationally argue them.

I disagree on one point; namely I think most of the suck surrounding Twitter has to do with a few UI decisions that could be tweaked at little cost. Not broad philosophical notions (dare I say: bloviating wankery from @jack) of what "healthy conversation" is. This is a topic that's indescribably far out of Twitter's wheelhouse.

1. Notification throttling

The experience when you receive a bunch of replies is terrible. Even if those replies are good (but especially when they're negative), you're still dealing with your phone filling your notification screen. It leads easily to feeling dogpiled, especially if the character of the replies isn't positive. They quickly become too many to read and deal with.

Notifications should stop after around 5 to 10 replies to the same tweet, user-configurable.

2. Conversation muting

It's all too easy to wind up in a long conversation you don't want to be in anymore. Since tweet chains use direct @uernames, the only way to get out of the conversation is to block the offenders (which is a nuke where a knife is needed), or ask nicely for people to drop your username and hope they comply.

There should be a way to opt out of further notifications in the same chain of tweets.

These two things alone would do wonders to improve the user experience.

> Conversation muting

The ⌄ menu on every tweet has "Mute this conversation"

What they're considering a conversation is entirely too limited then, because the feature appears to do very little.

> Through its core design—short messages, retweets, engagement metrics—Twitter incapacitates the safeguards necessary for civil discussion. It eliminates context, encourages us to present each other out of context, prevents us from explaining ourselves, rewards the most incendiary messages and most impulsive reactions, drives us to take sides and build walls.

Well said. You could hardly build a better system to discourage thoughtful and productive dialogue if you tried.

That is not my experience, and therein may lie an answer.

Twitter can be what you make it. You can follow a small group of tweeters who are balanced, post infrequently and have attitudes that work for you. Or not.

Thinking that your life on twitter is defined almost entirely by Twitter and that you have little responsibility guarantees that you will be buffeted about on a stream, not of your making. Self fulfilling prophesy.

Twitter can't measure even the things that matter to you, specifically, let alone get measurements close to your own.

They can try to put together a "good default" mechanism that does better, BUT the real contribution they can make is to better help those who can know what they want. Better enable people who want to control it for themselves.

If we end up there, this RFP, could do good.

The question is which experience is the outlier.

Social media has a problem in that everybody wants to participate, but the vast majority of people have nothing of value to add. So the signal:noise ratio is going to inherently end up very poor. If you look at message groups with significant barriers to entry you rarely if ever get this sort of 'Twitter-effect'.

For instance, I have little other alternative than using Twitter if I'd like to see comments from Elon Musk. And then in looking for his comments within his tweets (as Twitter decided to remove the ability to simply click on tweets + replies when logged out, thanks Twitter) it's full of complete trash. People begging for money, scammers trying to get people to send them eth, people making inane comments, and then some 1% or so actually half interesting comments. e.g. see: https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/968614419784613888

There's no real solution other than adding a barrier to entry, but of course the reason people like Elon post on Twitter is because of its userbase size. It's a free marketing tool. Which goes back to the problem mentioned that on Twitter the users are not the customer, but the product. And so Twitter has no incentive to fix its idiocracy since that's what's driving its success.

Twitter can be what you make it. You can follow a small group of tweeters who are balanced, post infrequently and have attitudes that work for you. Or not.

But the experience is not under your control. Anyone can choose to take something you say, screenshot it, and try to brigade you. A sarcastic remark to a friend or an in joke or one part of an ongoing conversation is ripe for this, and people on Twitter are actively looking for opportunities to do it.

IMO you’re gonna need to do more than blame Twitter.

Humans were racist, misogynistic, selfish, hateful, road raging shitheads before social media.

Columbine was before all of these things

Kent state

Beltway sniper


Hate crimes everywhere

What’s different is how visible Twitter makes it

My money is on this being more of a nationalism thing. Buried or purposefully hidden xenophobia and anxiety over being in each other’s faces suddenly

Especially with the older crowd that grew up and lived mostly isolated

These attitudes were more visible during GW’s time in office too

It’s disconcerting seeing a community of “smart” people ignoring a lot of variables and insisting on demonizing Johnny Come-lately

It was less work to find a hateful clique before Twitter. Just walk around town and find the right group of people


Remember the ESA Rosetta shirt guy who broke down into tears?

I remember that the shirt was designed by a female friend of his and he wore it on TV to help her get some exposure!

Twitter is definitely what you make of it. I have plenty of reasonable discussions with people of very different perspectives. It is definitely harder to do that than, say, on Facebook. But there's no other platform where you can find and interact with as many voices, from the globally famous down to entirely marginalized people.

That's not to say that they don't have a problem with hate, or that they shouldn't be working much harder on it. But I disagree that it's an essential property of the platform. Humans have a very long history of people of different perspectives hating each other even in person. For example, look at the Nadir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nadir_of_American_race_relatio...

In the US, after the Civil War, we had the Reconstruction, a period of significantly increased racial harmony. Many people of goodwill worked hard to integrate America, with a lot of African-Americans moving into white towns. But within decades the tide turned, leading to a wave of anti-black ethic cleansing that left many places all white for many decades. This is extensively documented in Loewen's Sundown Towns: https://www.amazon.com/Sundown-Towns-Hidden-Dimension-Americ...

Nobody needed short messages or engagement metrics to do that.

> But I disagree that it's an essential property of the platform.

Jack: "We have witnessed abuse, harassment, troll armies, manipulation through bots and human-coordination, misinformation campaigns, and increasingly divisive echo chambers. We aren’t proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough"

So the ceo himself disagrees with you there.

You could take your personal gun to the shooting range and diligently hone your sharpshooting skills. That doesn't excuse what the majority of the planet uses guns for. The platform is definitely culpable. It was precisely engineered for low latency quick trigger back and forth responses which give you zero time to think. Think of it like HFTs. If you charge 20 cents per order, your order book would frankly evaporate, instead of being stuffed with fake orders, you wouldn't even need L2. You could artificially delay each tweet so it gets posted a half hour after you hit send. The dynamics will be quite different, I guarantee that. The dopamine rush will dissipate rapidly & so will the impressions & clicks.

I agree it's a current characteristic of the platform. I disagree that it's an essential property of the platform, which was the claim in the post I'm replying to. The CEO definitely does not agree that Twitter as a platform is going to have to "change fundamentally".

As an aside, the latency in Twitter conversations is 1-3 orders of magnitude slower than real-life (or on-TV) conversation, so you may need to rethink your belief that it's uniquely bad.

couldn't agree more. i uninstalled the app from my phone a week or 2 ago, and have been reading books and doing duolingo. it's MUCH harder to keep doing both of those things, instead of going to the twitter website. thankfully, the muni in SF sucks so god damn much that getting signal on your train is out of the question, making reading books the best option for constant distraction.

I think we could make similar claims about cable TV news, newspapers, Facebook, and most websites. I think it’s an interesting question if the behavior we have seen was caused by the design of Twitter, or if Twitter is instead another outlet/vector. Or some combination of both.

I like your approach, it's a very systems theory take. Even if it's not a foregone conclusion that a twitter-like system would turn into what you describe, it is also a very foreseeable (or at least obvious-in-retrospect) failure mode.

Someone did try to make a paid for twitter [1], it apparently didn't work

[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2012/08/...

I mean literally generates hate

Blaming Twitter is akin to covering your ears and eyes and saying there is no hate in society at large. Twitter doesn't generate hate. Its users do. Twitter isn't broken; we are.

The society also has ways to mediate conflicts, but Twitter removed them.

I deleted my Twitter account when I realised that I was contributing to the sarcasm/nastiness/hatred on Twitter. Every now and again I look at Twitter to see if there's anything positive on there, but almost always it's just snarky comments, outright racism, fear mongering, and a raft of other negativity.

Unfortunately, I can't see how this will change.

>A big part of it will involve making us the customer, not the product

Bowen: When you get a collection of young, nerdy, socially awkward people together and they're emotionally invested into a website you're going to have those types of problems.

Kyanka: So I said to myself, "OK, what's a way we can get rid of idiots like this? Because I don't want to sit here babysitting the forums nonstop." So I said, "If you want an account, PayPal me ten bucks and I'll register you an account." And he immediately went away and those issues immediately went away.

Bowen: When [Rich] started charging for forums accounts registrations, he wasn't doing that to make money. He was doing that because he was sick of banning people from the forums and then having them just come back immediately with a new account.

Hendren: When Rich put the paywall in effect, it kept idiots out to an enormous degree. It was probably the smartest decision he ever made in regards to the website. You have to put in a little investment if you want to participate and if you're a real shithead you're going to end up paying Rich like $150 because you keep buying accounts, which is good for the site and it's also kind of funny to watch really, really bad people shell out a lot of money.

source: https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/nzg4yw/fuck-you-a...

In Twitter, I see more hatred in the replies than in the original posts. My rule of thumb is to not read the replies in Twitter (applies to most public forums except HN). I still feel original posts on Twitter are good, as it is purely based on whom you follow.

Well put. I usually refer to Twitter as the "Outrage generator".

It wasn't really designed for discussion or conversation was it?

It's very important to understand that it doesn't matter what a system is designed for what matters is how people actually use it.

That's what Patreon discovered recently. They thought it was a tool for already well-established creators to monetize their fanbases. What people actually used it for--aside from the top few in each category--was to make a few extra dollars and give themselves enough breathing room to climb closer to some kind of financial stability.

I don't agree. A generic "well-established creators monetize their fanbases" is still hurt quite badly by charging 40 cents per creator per month. The misunderstanding was much deeper/dumber.

> Through its core design—short messages, retweets, engagement metrics—Twitter incapacitates the safeguards necessary for civil discussion. It eliminates context, encourages us to present each other out of context, prevents us from explaining ourselves, rewards the most incendiary messages and most impulsive reactions, drives us to take sides and build walls.

The market-based way to fix this would be for there to be lots of social network platforms, with different features, trying lots of different things out, competing with each other, so that eventually we're get ones good for civil discussion. (And also we'll get ones good for other things, for people who want those other things).

Building a twitter-like platform is not a particularly complex thing to do. Indeed, it's so simple that tutorials for web development frameworks often use it as an example!

So why isn't there a massive amount of competition in the social network space, with users having lots of high-quality options to choose from? And why do we often see complaints from users fed up with how Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc work?

The answer is network effects. If I started a competitor to Twitter/etc my site would (initially at least) have few users so there would be no interesting content that would make people go there. Incumbents have an enormous advantage.

One solution to this would be to require that all such sites, once they are a certain size, have an API (e.g. something like RSS) that allows others sites to download and re-use the content that their users put on them. This would break down the walled gardens that the internet is increasingly becoming and permit more competition. This solution however requires lawmakers to be both clueful and desirous of increasing freedom on the internet, factors that make it unlikely to be adopted.

>The answer is network effects. If I started a competitor to Twitter/etc my site would (initially at least) have few users so there would be no interesting content that would make people go there. Incumbents have an enormous advantage.

It's not just network effects. As the OP describes the outrage is also generated as a means to keep people glued to their screens. This is a staple of the 'attention economy' that has been growing around social media.

The problem is obviously that attention is a zero sum game. Instead of technology bringing humans closer together and fostering genuine interaction and making us more productive, this form of economic activity wants us to waste more and more time, creates addictive mechanisms, artificial anger and so on.

It's the very opposite of what technology should exist for. Market solutions aren't going to fix it I'm afraid. If anything they're like a big megaphone that even make it worse.

> this form of economic activity wants us to waste more and more time, creates addictive mechanisms, artificial anger and so on.

Yes, that's true as well. I'm reminded of PG's essay on addiction: http://paulgraham.com/addiction.html

I think that it takes time for new social norms to evolve that counteract the new forms of addiction that technology throws up. But it is happening. Just look at all the people who complain about Facebook, for example.

That's Mastodon. Or Usenet, if you want to be even better.

I want to agree but at the same time I can remember plenty of hideously toxic discussions on Usenet 25 years ago, so it's not just a characteristic of the platform.

Don't twitter stockholders want to see that hate channeled into profits. Hate sells.

I think that's technically true, although the stockholders don't necessary want to see "hate" as they think of it. They want to see growing engagement, and hate does engage.

Facebook had this same issue -- pissing users off with echo-chamber news articles was very engaging. But because Zuckerberg has control, he was able to make a decision to move away from those addictive feelings of rage. It's bad in the short-term for Facebook, but will be good in the long-term.

Hate may sell, but if it drives users off your platform then it doesn’t matter how much engagement you have.

mean literally generates hate, as in, put a bunch of people with diverse perspectives on Twitter and by the end of the day they hate each other more than when they started

This is entirely by design. The emotions that generate engagement with social media are outrage, jealousy, gloating, fomo, loneliness. Even if the people running it didn’t consciously decide (tho’ I bet they knew) the algorithms would have figured it out. The entire concept of social media is toxic. And all to show you more ads.

>> The entire concept of social media is toxic. And all to show you more ads.

Social media funded by venture capital, maybe. Most Mastodon instances big enough to need outside funding run on a few Patreon or Liberapay contributions. The main one gets enough for the developer to work on it full time.

Social media doesn't have to be the way Facebook and Twitter convinced people it has to be.

Well said. Social networks don't have to have an exploitative business model; Facebook and Twitter aren't the only possible models.

It seems that the previous, open, free social platforms are dead or agonizing -- from Usenet newsgroups to blogs, RSS readers, and even mailing lists. 90+% of my immediate family and relatives only communicate via Facebook. All of my past colleagues only communicate via LinkedIn. None of them have personal websites or blogs.

So, what are the successful, alternative models that I can use today with like-minded people, family, or friends?

IRC still works a treat

Sms, calling, talking irl.

The mistake made here is assuming the issue is social networks and not people.

Media has gotten increasingly vile with every new iteration of attention absorption.

People and human brains are the issue.

People and human brains are the issue

Yes and no. As a human you have certain behaviours or reflexes or instincts that have been programmed into you by evolution. They operate without conscious thought, because they have to. They mostly are about the tribe or the pack if you will; straying too far from that tribe would compromise your survivability, being ostracised by the tribe meant certain death. Those instincts have been weaponised by Twitter and Facebook, they carefully set things up to push the buttons that trigger the urge to form a mob, or the terror of being left out or pushed out. They trigger the serotonin rewards of feeling like one of the tribe when you do what they want (engagement) and they keep you in line with threat of punishment if you don’t participate, retweet this, like that.

We’ve been hacked in other words.

I think you’re being too generous. Even if the creators didn’t know what you’re describing going in, and as you say they almost certainly did, they’ve had plenty of time to learn. Yet, they’ve optimized for conflict, for clicks and maximum engagement. All as you say, to sell more Coke and shaving cream.

The most frustrating part is the tendency of these companies to frame their callous and destructive business model in terms of Orwellian positivity. Everyone who is making a new app to record and share the sounds of your pet taking a shit is “changing the world.”

> This is entirely by design

No it's not and it's frankly insulting and factually baseless to suggest Twitter is deliberately sowing discord in order to sell more ads. Ever thought comments like yours are part of the problem too ?

The fact is that Twitter and Facebook are reflections of who we are as people. We are the ones who chose to encourage celebrity culture by engaging with it. Which of course in turn has a whole raft of negative side effects. We encourage loneliness and intolerance by our xenophobia, racism etc. We are merely taking what happens in the schoolyard into the digital realm.

Just think though. Are Twitter and Facebook to blame when we walk past the homeless and do nothing ? When we never listened to sexual abuse victims of people like Weinstein and Trump ? How about our politicians behaviour ?

No it's not and it's frankly insulting and factually baseless to suggest Twitter is deliberately sowing discord in order to sell more ads

Two words: algorithmic timeline

It's vaguely disturbing to read the CEO of a company that hosts one of the world's largest communications platforms talk about "measuring the health" of conversations and his company's goal to get rid of conversations they deem unhealthy.

The problems Jack talks about (echo chambers, political bias, misinformation campaigns) are serious problems that our society faces as a small group of voices increasingly have the ability to reach millions of real people. However, I think it's unethical to solve it by eliminating speech based on an arbitrary group of people's notion of what is "healthy speech".

I think that Jack forgets that he's talking about real people expressing real thoughts and opinions. Of course he is well within his rights to do whatever he wants with his platforms, but if we want to view this as a problem of ethics, Twitter is directly infringing on private individuals' rights to autonomy of expression and manipulating their view of the world by deciding what they should and should not see. I don't think that is a solution which produces the greatest net good.

I think what's troubling is that this conflates really problematic, damaging speech with what is merely controversial.

Dismissing "healthy speech" as a category is one thing, but let's not have any illusions about some of what falls outside of that category. Twitter has a problem with anonymous users sending mass quantities of death threats, racial slurs, and other horrible invective at anyone who says something controversial. Twitter has a problem with bot accounts that deliberately disrupt and overwhelm healthy conversations. Twitter has a problem with literal Nazis being all over its service.

So far Twitter has been pretty much unable to fix these issues. Now it's broadening what "healthy speech" means, looking at the problem differently, in other words flailing around and trying yet another strategy for fixing its mostly-toxic platform. I doubt it'll work, but I think it represents less Twitter trying to become Big Brother and more Twitter trying whatever it possibly can to fix these glaring problems in its service.

The problem is Twitter as a company, not as a concept. Twitter as company has destroyed the third party ecosystem that could have been INVALUABLE here.

Twitter the company wants to be all things to all people. But the ruler of the kingdom shouldn't also be the judge, and Twitter's taking on of all the technical tasks leaves it both vulnerable to criticism, and the only solution, where every solution must be a twitter engineered solution, which means one shot, no variety, no multiple-bets, no creative destruction.


A third party ecosystem designed around tasks like blocking content would also preserve free speech. A twitter run system never could.

A third party system around bot detection, tied in to paying for tweets from "influencers" (god I hate that term), would work well where twitter can't do that.

Twitter should abdicate from the multiple roles of sole judge, executioner and tech provider, and start to let others take up some slack. That provides a buffer, preserves all the rights people could want or have, and allows more tools that empower people while twitter focuses on the technical challenge of keeping the thing up, and being profitable.

It's remarkable how quickly the west has embraced a culture of censorship.

Serious question: If people want to post hateful content, what is preventing them from doing so on either their own website, or to one of the many existing websites which are friendly to that sort of content?

I honesrly don’t understand why mainstream social media websites should be allowing that sort of thing. There are plenty of other places they can freely post, so they really are not being censored.

Nothing is; that's great. (Let's see how long it lasts!)

But we've seen a huge embrace of censorship on our dominant communication platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube).

There was a time when Twitter prided itself on its commitment to free speech. They patted themselves on the back and chuckled as Twitter helped foment revolutions in other countries.

Now its caused a fair bit of political upheaval back in the good ol' USA, and the official line has become "we didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences" of "public conversation."

Censorship culture.

This is simplistic to the point of mischaracterization.

It's very hard, if not impossible, for someone to have a "their own website" that doesn't have someone in the loop that can kick them off: hosting company, domain registrar, ISP, etc. See what happens regularly with piracy sites, for example.

If there were any examples besides Stormfront, that would make more sense.

But it seems like if that were to actually happen, it would make more sense for pushback to be aimed at those providers, rather than it currently being aimed at private social media companies out of a fear of what providers “may” do if people were to set up their own websites (or use one of the many existing ones).

You want an example besides Stormfront, and I did so in my original post: piracy sites.

If you want something a little more morally clear, take a look at what happens with Sci-Hub. They finally actually lost a court order (which led to the suspending of their hosting), but it doesn't always take that. They've been playing "domain whack-a-mole" for a very long time now: https://torrentfreak.com/sci-hub-battles-pirate-bay-esque-do.... And as that article mentions, less-savory sites such as The Pirate Bay get taken down without court orders all the time.

To be clear, my confusion is due to the fact that sites like Gab and certain Chan boards host this type of content, yet they do not have issues. And again, I am not understanding why social media websites are to blame for what may happen as a result of them creating their own websites or joining hate-friendly ones, versus what seems more sensible: Blaming infrastructure providers when they actually do take actions against clients due to speech, which appears to be your actual concern, right?

No, that argument makes total sense to me as well. You're right that there are plenty of hate sites like the two you mentioned that don't have issues.

I also wasn't trying to attack the existing social media sites, either. I think it makes absolute sense for them to kick the trolls and hate crowds off their platform; strong moderation makes for strong communities (HN being one good example).

Mostly, I think I was trying to point out that "go somewhere else" is a solution that only works to a certain extent. Against a relentless enough opposition, there isn't really a true "public square" you can absolutely fall back to on the modern internet. I don't know what the actual argument behind my pointing that out is, just… contributing a fact, I guess.

Don't have issues?

Gab was banned from the Play Store. If you want to use their mobile app you have to flip extra switches and download it yourself.

Voat was the target of massive DDoS attacks. Also, apparently, people posting child porn there then immediately reporting it to their ISPs to try and get rid of them.

Quillette posted the views of 4 scientists on James Damore's memo and was DDoSd off the net for days.

You have to understand that this isn't a simple case of go get your own infrastructure. The sort of people who want to eliminate "unhealthy speech" on Twitter want to eliminate it everywhere, and will use whatever tools they can get their hands on to do so. Including attacking whatever is set up to support those who are getting booted off other platforms.

People need to stop using the word "hate" and start calling people out whenever they use it. "Hate" just means "blasphemy". Once you make this substitution, discussions like this start to make a lot more sense.

Serious question: If people want to post blasphemy, what's preventing them from doing so? [...] I honestly don’t understand why mainstream social media websites should be allowing that sort of thing.

All that is necessary for this analogy to become literal truth is to classify blasphemy (perhaps only against selected religions) as hate speech.

> what is preventing them from doing so on either their own website

Hosting companies that decide what is and isn't acceptable speech just like Twitter and Google are doing right now.

Twitter is under no obligation to distribute your content for you for free.

In China, when you post a politically unacceptable idea on a social media site, it is removed by a state censor. In the US, when you post a politically unacceptable idea on a social media site, it is removed by corporate censors or allied groups like the SPLC.

I'm not sure I see a huge difference, in practice.

"But if you don't like Twitter's policies, you can just make your own app." Sure, like Gab, which was subsequently banned from both the Google and Apple app stores for not itself censoring. Not a lot of breathing room when the modern communication mediums are dominated by a duopoly.

But that's all tangential to my point, which was referring to the cultural appreciation of free speech.

It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time when site's like Twitter claimed to be strong supporters of speech as both a principle and a practical reality to strive for.

Nowadays, the more common attitude is, "if we allow people to speak freely, they will spread conspiracy theories, fake news, and hateful thoughts harmful to society, so these ideas must be suppressed."

In just a few years, the zeitgeist has gone from valuing free speech as one of our most cherished ideals to valuing social cohesion as the most important good.

Pretty crazy.

And given that the corporations have bought the Government, it is really VERY similar to what is happening in China.

How to jump the shark on Hacker News: compare a private US corporation who has ample competition to communist China, where people are literally imprisoned for posting "politically-unacceptable ideas".

I can understand that an app may be more convenient to use, but needing to use the website instead of an app seems pretty different than having no place at all to post the messsages that most users do not want on Twitter.

That's a fair point -- and it's great the web exists. Super-awesome, open platform. We're really lucky to have it, and here in the US, in a raw, uncensored form. Frickin' awesome.

But from a tech/convenience perspective, the web is pretty...janky. Native apps are where it's at. And those have centralized gatekeepers with absolutely no freedom of expression.

It's not just conservative-ish stuff like Gab that gets hit. Another example is Apple refusing to accept an app that sent notifications when the US assassinated people via drone strikes. I think this does real damage to the polity; this is an important political message that cannot be delivered by the most salient medium because of corporate censorship.

And in the artistic or gaming realm, there's all sorts of "adult themed" stuff that'll get you rejected from the store. It's like a return to the 50s before the various Ferlinghetti obscenity trials.

Do you think the app-equivalent of Lolita or Howl or the Tropic of Cancer of even American Psycho would ever make it onto the app store today? Highly unlikely.

(Maybe you don't think apps are as important as books, but I think they will be.)

(And again, more generally, the interesting thing is we seem to have rapidly culturally shifted, where many people value the desire to be protected from disruptive speech more than the freedom to speak without disruption.)

the web is pretty...janky. Native apps are where it's at. And those have centralized gatekeepers with absolutely no freedom of expression

Sure, the web is pretty janky now, but it's the future (if we have one for apps). Native apps are doomed. Progressive web apps are catching up fast, and the good ones are already providing a more seamless experience, particularly on mobile, than native apps can. Ask yourself, how many users now, on average, install new apps on their device from an app store?

And your example of Apple, while true, only puts a fine point on this. What developer wants to write 3 different apps instead of just one that works across all platforms? And Steve Jobs knew this and pushed devs to build iPhone apps using standard web technologies.

I think this is still very much an open question. My gut says native will matter more and more as time goes on, but we'll see...

Sounds more like an antitrust issue than a censorship issue to me. My local grocery store doesn't carry Daily Stormer magazine, but I doubt that'd be cast as "corporate censorship" by anyone.

Yeah, I agree. Without the monopoly, the censorship isn't hugely important (except maybe important to you as a site user, or as an interesting cultural trend).

I do think app platforms are natural monopolies, so I wonder if the best thing to do is regulate them somehow to ensure openness. E.g., require any app to be installable that does not actually do illegal things.

It's seems kind of heavy-handed, but the current situation of Apple heavily restricting the kinds of apps we can have seems very non-ideal to me, too...

(The web is a great escape hatch for all of this, as pointed out by some other commentators, but I think native is where the action is, and it'd be nice to have web-levels of freedom there, too.)

The only thing that's "Pretty crazy" is this idea that giving free reign to the Nazis and the trolls represents an "embrace of free speech." Americans really don't understand their own history. Free speech has nothing to do with letting the most vile elements of society and hostile foreign nations deploy bots to spread as much hate and fear as possible.

I think the key change here is how completely radicalized even the mainstream has become. This popular defense of actual neo-Nazis would be unthinkable even just 20 years ago. But now we see the power of common interests (ending all immigration) and the terminal logic of "the enemy of my enemy."

under no obligation to distribute your content for you

Then it’s not a “common carrier”, can’t have it both ways.

By "the west" I presume you mean the corporatocacy/security state running the vast majority of the US and Western Europe?

Truly free speech doesn't exist; there are always limits based on societal norms and convention.

Should've said 'the USA' & 'the internet subcultures I have sampled'. Regret the error.

You would quickly change your mind about that, while you read death treats sent to your daughter by trolls.

Pretty sure death threats aren't protected speech unlike other hate crimes like intentionally misgendering him.

No, I would still think it was remarkable.

I'm not sure if I should read your comment as some sort of meta-threat...?

Back in the 90's, we used to scoff at the idea that the internet would be subject to widespread censorship - "the internet detects censorship as damage and routes around it" was what we used to say. It's starting to look like not only were we wrong, but that the internet is shaping up to be the ultimate censorship tool.

Twitter is not the Internet. The Internet is not Twitter. Platforms come and go. My computer will always be able to be connected to yours, though.

If you're worried about communications going through a third-party, privately owned service getting censored, then you're communicating wrong.

The web isn't even the internet.

It's more like "the internet detects censorship as desirable and strives toward it" now.

Twitter is a reflection of society. Twitter can't fix society, only censor its speech, which never works.

Congress needs to look at extending First Amendment protections for users of social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google.

I very strongly disagree with applying the First Amendment protections to data hosted on private infrastructure. 4chan more or less takes the "free speech" approach and it's a goddamned disaster.

People honestly can't even handle free speech in real-life, let alone anonymously on the internet. We literally have to create barriers around Planned Parenthood because people use free speech to berate women who are already suffering.

Speech needs to be protected, but when it starts to encroach on my pursuit of happiness it's a problem. Facebook, Twitter, etc don't need to become chan sites.

First amendment jurisprudence, thankfully, disagrees with you. But first, some history.

For most of modern history, speech has been censored in some form or another by governments. Naturally so, as any kind of divergent thinking can be dangerous to power structures (this hasn't gone away). In 1663, John Twynn, was tried and executed in England for printing material that suggested that perhaps the monarchy should be beholden to the people. The Sedition Act of 1798 was passed by the American Congress and signed into law by President John Adams. Namely, it prescribed fines and imprisonment for those who "write, print, utter, or publish... any false, scandalous and malicious writing" against the government. This was used to jail several members of Congress, among others.

Modern free speech jurisprudent didn't start to develop until as late as 1917. The Espionage Act of 1917 was enacted at the start of World War I to prevent actions that were seen as unfavorable to the war. The Supreme Court upheld the law as not violating freedom of speech in Schenck v. United States. I believe there was a subsequent 1917 or 1918 case that began to turn the tide (the reference escapes me at the moment and I'm at work), but it wasn't until 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio that the Supreme Court ruled that inflammatory speech is protected as long as it satisfies a two-prong test:

1. The speech is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action," AND 2. The speech is "likely to incite or produce such action."

The case concerned an Ohio Ku Klux Klan member who was recorded saying particularly horrid and denigrating things about African Americans, but, notably, nothing specifically threatening. The Supreme Court upheld your right to say things like "I think we should kill all Jews" because, although a terrible thing to say, statements like that aren't imminently encouraging lawless action and not likely to do so.

Past that point, the Supreme Court has regularly upheld this interpretation of the first amendment. The best argument against a more European, say, interpretation of the first amendment is that, simply: governments only ever censor speech that they don't like. That's why the Espionage Act was used to incarcerate the likes of Emma Goldman and not, say, the people who were helping organize lynchings. If you were to enact hate speech legislation, and history bears this out, the people most affected are the minorities: black people, Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ people, pacifists, communists, anarchists, socialists, etc. Think about all of the police that shoot unarmed black men. Can you seriously imagine police forces across America protecting the speech of someone that calls for the abolition of the institution that person belongs to?

So that's a brief history and law lesson (caveat: I am neither a lawyer nor a historian). This is certainly a larger discussion to have, and I very much enjoy debating things like hate speech legislation and speech restriction in general, but I'll leave you with this for now.

None of this is relevant to whether Twitter want to be complicit in publishing this speech which they are under no obligation to do.

Edit: I'm also wondering why the great examples of free speech that people reach for are always racism. It's not really surprising that racism is allowed in a country founded on racism. It might be more interesting to look at what has actually been banned in American free speech law over the years.

The "ag-gag" laws that were recently overturned are one thing I'm thinking of. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_libel_laws are another.

> None of this is relevant to whether Twitter want to be complicit in publishing this speech which they are under no obligation to do.

Grandparent was arguing that people can't handle free speech and that:

> Speech needs to be protected, but when it starts to encroach on my pursuit of happiness it's a problem. Facebook, Twitter, etc don't need to become chan sites.

I hear this a lot, particularly from the left (although the right does it too), on the grounds of protecting people from "harmful" speech. I disagree with that, which is why I responded, because I don't think enough people know about the modern interpretation of free speech and the long, storied history it has (not just in the US but everywhere). I certainly had no idea before I started reading.

> I'm also wondering why the great examples of free speech that people reach for are always racism.

It's not that they're examples, it's that the landmark Supreme Court cases that established our modern understanding of free speech typically involved the KKK and nazis (c.f. National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie). In other words, people with horrible beliefs are the only reason why you can stand on a street corner and preach about socialism, communism, anarchy, etc (which might be "horrible beliefs" too, depending on the individual). 100 years ago, someone distributed a gentle poem by a socialist and was put in jail, and it was legal. Do you want to go back to that? Because it is absolutely possible.

In other words, people with horrible beliefs are the only reason why you can stand on a street corner and preach about socialism, communism, anarchy, etc.

Some famous free speech cases have involved protecting the expression of 'horrible beliefs' (to use your phrase) but to suggest that all free speech jurisprudence stems from those cases is simply not true.

Pornographers of various kinds have made more (and better) arguments in favor of free speech than any political actors I'm aware of, and to cite the KKK as the harbingers of free political expression is to ignore the significance of cases like Cohen v. California (from 1971) where a man convicted of disturbing the peace for wearing a jacket bearing the words 'Fuck the Draft'in a court house had his conviction overturned.

National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie isn't so much a landmark case as the most recent one, and one that punts on the fundamental issues at that. Terminiello (including the dissents) is a far better template to work from.

Long, storied history dating back to ... 1977?

I'm going to quote my original post:

> In 1663, John Twynn, was tried and executed in England for printing material that suggested that perhaps the monarchy should be beholden to the people.

Absolutely! Just like how private malls have been ruled in some jurisdictions to be a sort of public space despite being privately-owned, I think it's important to recognize that the sheer size of some social media sites, combined with the dominant network effects, makes them something like virtual public spaces.

The alternative is that we end up with a future where more and more of life becomes privately owned and we end up either in online 'company towns' for our social interactions, or else we end up exiled to virtual ghettos where we are unable to interact with others if we go against whatever the dominant ideology happens to be.

Especially given how much these private companies act as the public commons nowadays. Between network effects and wide proliferation, the "just go elsewhere" defense doesn't work too well anymore.

I think it's workable. Once you both market yourself as an open platform for discussion (as Twitter and many other social sites have done) and reach a certain level of use (which I think we can debate on, but certainly Twitter who has world leaders making official pronouncements on it would clear that bar), some kind of oversight should kick in to prevent abuses.

I don't like the idea of letting a government body regulate how a communications company how to run their business.

Ignoring the moral implications of holding a gun to a business owner's head and forcing them to run their business the way you want, are we not opening up the doors for legitimate censorship down the line?

If we're concerned about world leaders making official pronouncements on Twitter, why not just dictate that they don't do that and instead utilize a different platform? Something decentralized preferably.

We already do that with phone companies, and up until very recently we almost did that with internet providers (by way of Title II common carrier status).

It wouldn't be that much of a legal stretch to say that the service is acting as a common carrier, and that they can either advertise honestly or be regulated. Twitter wants to have it both ways, where they can advertise as a space for public discussion when it suits them and fall back on the "private company, our back yard" defense when their behavior is questioned. This is the real problem.. there's nothing whatsoever wrong with operating a curated service as long as you are clear that's what you're doing.

As an alternative (and entirely off-the-cuff) legal theory, the communications decency act holds a provider harmless for what their users post, but critically, they lose that protection once they start exercising editorial control.

I'd aay that most large social networks already crossed that line. I also think most companies would ease up on the censorship if they knew that the alternative left them open to suit for libelous etc. content on their service.

Very good comment! Social media companies present themselves as better (technical solutions for) commons. Their identities show this: face book, (bird) tweets...

I don't want to be mean, but the actual situation makes me think that they are sort of new parasites for the commons (seen as an organism), sort of a cymothoa exigua [0] of public speech.

Since a comment like yours is so rare, I tweeted it :) [1] and I plus it with a post [2] I wrote after looking for laws concerning cultural genocide. Because, dramatic or not, that's the reality of the phenomenon, sadly.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymothoa_exigua [1] https://twitter.com/mbuliga/status/969646621981138946 [2] https://chorasimilarity.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/genocide-as...

>I don't like the idea of letting a government body regulate how a communications company how to run their business.

This makes me wonder if phone companies have the right to disconnect customers based on political speech they don't like.

If, say, Verizon decided they didn't want to "facilitate extremism," and decided to cancel the plans of politically unpopular organizations or its members, is that allowed? What if they decide that they don't want to have any of that 'filth' on their network, and disconnect anyone communicating to/from Verizon numbers if they are politically undesirable?

Ideally then those politically unpopular organizations and their members would move to Sprint, ATT, or another carrier who would love to have some new customers.

You should have a look at the list of things the payment processors have disallowed ...

Also note that telecoms companies have the law on their side against "obscene" or "harassing" phone calls, in a way that doesn't seem to apply to other internet communications.

If Twitter can't figure out a way to build a platform that does not damage society without violating First Amendment protections, then perhaps Twitter should cede its responsibility to the platform but opening the social graph up to let anyone build any version of it on top.

Congress needs to follow through I removing content liability immunity to sites that thought police. The method is already there is law, as usual it is a lack of enforcement.

I read it less as an indictment of any real person expressing a real thought or opinion and more as a constructive criticism of a system that can be gamed to destructively exacerbate tensions between different thoughts and opinions, rather than constructively negotiating them.

I don't see it as eliminating speech; I see it as first getting metrics into how much of Twitter's usage is positive - because it's human (and the media's) nature to focus on the negative - and second to promote and encourage the "good" kind of communication, instead of trying to censor and stifle the "bad" kind. Carrot vs stick.

Would you not say that rewarding "good" communication through better exposure is effectively censoring "not good" communication by prioritizing it less than the "good"? Twitter isn't banning anyone, but it's relegating an arbitrary set of speech to a position where people will receive less exposure to it. If we normalize the level of exposure the net result would still be censorship.

Good old "civility". The excuse that tyrants, dictators, liberals, conservatives and social media tycoons use to justify censorship.

Surprised the other excuse ( "won't you please think of the children" ) wasn't used.

Can't wait for the next wave of censorship. ISPs banning twitter, news and pornography to increase "health and civility".

The promise of open and free internet is quickly turning into a nightmare of censored social media.

Is anyone else concerned that twitter and social media are now openly stating that they will manipulate content/people to fit their agenda?

If it was china doing this, HN and the media would be attacking it from every angle possible. Strangely, the same type of behavior in the US is supported by these same people.

>If it was china doing this, HN and the media would be attacking it from every angle possible. Strangely, the same type of behavior in the US is supported by these same people.

Because, unlike with China, the US government isn't using its monopoly on violence to force Twitter to make these decisions, or arresting those who fail to comply. It's not even remotely the same thing.

Is anyone else concerned that twitter and social media are now openly stating that they will manipulate content/people to fit their agenda?

Not really, based on what Jack is saying here, and Facebook's stance of "stop promoting third party posts and promote friends' posts more[0]".

A lot of what we see on social media now - slews of paid ads and suggestions based on easily gamed algorithms - are tools of other peoples' agendas... Do you think you're really in control of your social media feeds?

0 - https://www.vox.com/2018/1/12/16882536/facebook-news-feed-ch...

> Not really, based on what Jack is saying here, and Facebook's stance of "stop promoting third party posts and promote friends' posts more[0]".

Facebook saying that is just a way of saying “Make people using Facebook for advertising purposes pay more to reach the audience”, which is what Facebook makes changes to do frequently, usually with the same explanation and no real change in the amount of non-friend content (just the non-friends reaching you are more heavily tilted to those paying more for paid reach, i.e., ads that don't get distinguished from organic content.)

What is "censorship"? When I learned about the concept, I learned the definition that "censorship" is to block a person's speech in a purely public space. You seem to be alluding to a more abstract right than this.

> What is "censorship"? When I learned about the concept, I learned the definition that "censorship" is to block a person's speech in a purely public space. You seem to be alluding to a more abstract right than this.

Censorship is just limiting/preventing speech. It can be by government, private organizations or even individuals. Governments can censor. Companies can censor. Your parents can censor.

Historically, since governments have been the most powerful institutions and our focus was primarily on preventing government censorship.

Censorship by private organizations and private individuals is legal ( including self-censorship ). Censorship by government is generally illegal in the US.

But that doesn't mean twitter can't censor. They can and they do censor. It's just that it is legal and their right to censor.

Hope that clears up any confusion on censorship.

But here's a thought, as corporations get more and more powerful ( even more powerful than many governments around the world ), should we as a society think about protecting citizens from corporate censorship?

We should think about why we allow corporations to be that powerful. If they're powerful enough to meaningfully censor society, then they should no longer be private entities.

> If it was china doing this, HN and the media would be attacking it from every angle possible.

Yes, people see a difference between private parties exercising freedom of the press and the government regulating what can be published in a medium.

Dude. I dont think you really have anything to worry about. 4chan is still around. Other platforms which enable hate speech and shit posting will pop up to fill the void. The internet is anarchic. Quit your complaining.

It doesn't help me to post on 4chan if the people I want to attack aren't there.

> Is anyone else concerned that twitter and social media are now openly stating that they will manipulate content/people to fit their agenda?

All advertising-supported platforms exist to make money off someone manipulating the user for an agenda, so I'm not sure why it would be more concerning for the outlet itself to have an overt agenda.

The promise of open and free internet is quickly turning into a nightmare of censored social media.

Stop. None of this is happening. If you want to start a website where people can have garbage discussions, nothing is stopping you. Feel free to take action if you believe the cause is important.

I already think we have Voat for garbage discussions. One such site is more than enough.

You don't have to ban it. It will kill itself. People will realize how toxic it is, how bad it makes them feel and there will be a time when social will "fall apart". Then after a couple of years it will make a comeback and the cycle will start again with a new Facebook, a new Twitter and a new Instagram.

From the tweet storm, emphasis mine:

> While working to fix it, we‘ve been accused of apathy, censorship, political bias, and optimizing for our business and share price instead of the concerns of society. This is not who we are, or who we ever want to be.

I don't understand why people don't admit that that their own political biases exist. Hell I know I have them. It's part of what makes us human.

Apparently we're not alone either: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608986/forget-killer-robo...

Ask any politician - there is power in appearing to be above the frailty of bias, apathy, etc. Hypothetically, if twitter wanted to purge it's platform of one side of the political spectrum, it would be far easier to do it for the sake of "collective health, openness, and civility", than for the real reason of "we don't like you".

> Ask any politician

They will tell you they favour fairness and freedom from bias. It's the other side that are biased.

Bad guys have biases, good guys have convictions.

Ask any politician - there is power in appearing to be above the frailty of bias, apathy, etc

Ironic, considering the current President seems to have gotten his position by doing the exact opposite.

Because the moment you admit it, self-appointed "rational" people will use it to deletigimitize you.

Better to be dishonest and retain the appearance of legitimacy.

The thing is though, as a society, we're dishonest for the appearance of legitimacy on nearly every subject. I mean, that's basically the same reason we don't admit our severe racial biases.

Biases are a part of life. Not admitting them is a part of life. Where Twitter goes off the rails, is not in failing to recognize and admit to their own bias, but rather in failing to recognize and admit to the conflicting biases of everyone using their platform.

Twitter recognizing their own bias does little at all to solve the core issue they are speaking to in the missive. They need to change the behavior of their users, and I'm not at all sanguine about their ability to do that.

Since we are supposedly talking about level of bias everyone has by function of being human, the "dishonest apearance of legitimacy" framing does not change much nor adds anything meaningful.

His own statement rests on an assumption "political bias" and "concerns for society" can be disentangled.

I'm not surprised people are accusing them of being dishonest, because the alternative is that they seriously believe that the two aren't the same thing.

People have learned that bias is wrong. Never mind that being biased toward doing the right thing is not wrong, it will be called a bias, and it will be called wrong.

That's why people don't do it. The word "bias" strongly invites equivocation.

I think by "we" he doesn't mean himself and his colleagues, but Twitter itself.

While a human has a political bias, an Internet service, especially one claiming to be an open communication platform, probably shouldn't.

The fact that it took @jack, by my count, 13 tweets to say this is itself evidence that what he's trying to do will never come to pass on Twitter. Trying to read it, I kept thinking, "why is this so long?"

It's not. I'd read a Medium article or HN or Reddit post three times its length and not blink.

The right move to increase civility of discourse would be to stop providing that discourse via environments designed to discourage comprehension, lower the attention span of the user base, and encourage flamey, bite-sized "takes."

I no longer read "one" tweet that is spread out over multiple tweets, it's too jarring and broken and hurts my eyes. I'm surprised it's still going on.

Twitter upped its character limit recently; next up they should make what I feel is a relatively simple change and turn multi-tweet posts into neatly formatted multi-paragraphed but single-post-seeming articles.

I like this idea. You can post whatever you want, and make it as lengthy as you like, but you have to do it NNN characters at a time, at a rate not to exceed one post every X minutes.

Why is it a long-form post more suited to Livejournal or blog post and in no way written to work on Twitter?

That in itself is indicative of the problem.

It would be nice if there was a platform that was as good at short messages as Twitter while also being good for longer more deliberative posts.

Of course the problem for any new social network is that it is hard for it to become successful, due to network effects.

Platforms don't just stay used the way they were intended or created to be used. Threads became a wildly successful thing on Twitter, and they embraced the phenomenon rather than fighting against it. That's actually a characteristic of good adaption to trends -- something that Twitter could do far more of.

Twitter is taking itself too seriously, believing that if it could tweak around the edges, it could improve the quality of the debate in the direction of civility and understanding. Perhaps some nudges and UX changes could encourage these things (I remember a long article about Facebook tweaking their "report picture" function to encourage messaging the person to talk about it before reporting).


I hate to break it to @jack, but Twitter conversation simply reflects the nature of humanity in an adversarial political system. Attempting to "elevate the debate" will never work, since the debate has never been "elevated." There were no good ol' days of citizen-statesmen calmly discussing their political differences and coming to reasoned conclusions on policy.

No. Politics is always adversarial. As a libertarian, both "sides" of the American political divide feel threatening to me, since all proposals out there are for one form of authoritarianism or another. All proposals involve me giving up a little more of my personal or economic liberty. Will @jack do anything to alleviate my fears that my liberty is being attacked every single day? Probably not.

He's devoted to "collective health and civility," which reads like a 1984 thought-police handbook. Of course, the debate always seems civil after the dissenting voices have been crushed.

(Pre-emptive retort to attack on libertarianism: Yes, I know Twitter is private property. Yes, Jack can do whatever he wants with his business, within the laws for a publicly-traded company.)

Huh, your comment actually caused me to re-evaluate my thinking a little bit.

Because you're right, in general this is true:

> There were no good ol' days of citizen-statesmen calmly discussing their political differences and coming to reasoned conclusions on policy.

It seems that way sometimes (calm debate and discussion), but US history of course is full of angry, threatening debates with even politicians themselves erupting into actual physical violence sometimes [1].

Still, it feels like there's been a notable shift. Compare one of the 1992 presidential debates [2] to a 2016 presidential debate [3]. The former feels like an actual debate, the latter feels like a segment on a political news show where basically the loudest voice "wins".

Of course, US politics has always been a thin veneer of civility masking some extremely aggressive adversarial acts (e.g. Watergate), but it seems like that mask has now disappeared almost entirely.

I don't know that Twitter is the cause of any of this (as opposed to just a reflection of where we're at), but it does feel like things have certainly shifted nonetheless.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legislative_violence#United_St...

2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jg9qB_BIjWY

3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=855Am6ovK7s

> Still, it feels like there's been a notable shift.

I don't know if I agree completely...I watched your videos and yes- the debates during the 2016 election were absolutely ridiculous, I think that's mostly due to wider and more public acceptance of conspiracy theory, Fox News, and your Rush Limbaughs, and on the flipside thought-policing, extreme sensitivity, etc

It's funny, back to why I somewhat disagree with you, if you watch any news from the last twenty or thirty years everyone seems to have the exact same concerns as they do now. Donald Trump (and even Hillary Clinton when she was running) are just really loud mouthpieces for those concerns.

Setting aside formal debates among politicians, if you want to talk about why discussion of contentious topics by average Joes and Janes has degenerated into its current state of pointless shouting matches, I feel like it has less to do with Fox News, conspiracy theories, fake news, Russian meddling or whatever else is regularly associated with the alt-right. In the run-up to the election and the months following it, a large faction on the left has abandoned any pretense of discussing ideas and policies or of having civilized debate, preferring instead to become very aggressive with insults, wild accusations of racism, white supremacy, misogyny, etc., in order to demonize their opposition. You see it all the time on this forum and others. It's lazy and harmful, and it's being used as a tool to avoid any self-reflection.

I agree with one caveat- I think it's preposterous to say that the left is responsible for this- both sides participated in this nonsense and it's obvious that that is the case.

And, I think you have to take the context in which Donald Trump rose to power into account- to many (myself included) it's also preposterous that someone with a track record of failure, bankruptcy, and lack of experience could come to head our administrative branch...it's hard to have a conversation when the very idea of his election is so absurd, for better or for worse.

Another edit! I think it's misleading for you to present Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, et al. as things associated with the Alt-Right. These are very much poor sources of information and are very much so digested by a huge swath of conservative Americans.

> I think that's mostly due to wider and more public acceptance of conspiracy theory, Fox News, and your Rush Limbaughs, etc..

That's a pretty serious shift!

Absolutely agreed

Yes, every time someone tells me politics is getting more adversarial I think back to people like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxEjzSlbHvY

As a socialist... You're right about Twitter and the history of political debate. The era of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster was also the era of Senators beating each other with canes.

To me, the most interesting part is the following:

>What we know is we must commit to a rigorous and independently vetted set of metrics to measure the health of public conversation on Twitter.

>So we’re seeking help by opening up an RFP process to cast the widest net possible for great ideas and implementations.

RFP: https://blog.twitter.com/official/en_us/topics/company/2018/...

There is hate and bile on Twitter because people are full of hate and bile. This is a frightening time to be alive for a lot of people, full of uncertainty and a feeling that they have been hard done by and manipulated by faceless bureaucrats.

The answer to this aspect is "simple"; make people happier.

What makes is easier and more 'acceptable' for people to write these things is that they don't have to look into the faces of their targets. You can't have civil discourse when two people are wearing masks. This problem can't be solved by social media in its current form, or maybe ever. Perhaps VR communities where everyone is forced to use their own face and have it 100% accurate and real-time.

Even then people don't have the same sense of humour and understanding of nuance which is a big reason we choose to associate with the people we do. It's easy to be offended when you hear two people talk in terms you aren't familiar with and aren't privy to past discussions and inside jokes. This is unsolvable by social media without federation, which is basically what traditional forums are.

The crazy thing every time I read something like this,is how out of touch tech companies are.

Isn't technology supposed to enhance our lives? In twitter's case, why cannot it lead to people having more compassionate conversation.

I think there is difference between free speech and hate speech and because of metrics such as MAU's and other's Wall Street imposes on twitter and other tech companies, they are not incentivized to have stronger communities which may be smaller rather than larger communities who are more distant if that makes sense.

I can’t take this seriously. Their economic model seems dependent on extreme messages/people.

Well, if Facebook were able to change the news feed to focus more on friends and family and away from their $-cow companies and advertisers, then maybe Twitter can change.

If anything we should take it extremely seriously in as much as we're getting to a point where private companies undertake research projects on how the can alter the public discourse through algorithms.

I'm not saying that has to be bad. It could very well be good too. But it does open some fairly terrifying possibilities as well.

Yeah but Facebook haven't really fixed the problem. That change was a nudge in the right direction but News Feed is still fundamentally optimized for engagement. Hyper-partisan content is just more engaging than nonpartisan content.

This reads like an arms wide-open embrace of politically correct language and inoffensiveness, along with a shunning of everything else on the platform.

I'm honestly not sure how much I blame Twitter. It's not their duty to stand up for offensive ideas and they'll undoubtedly be more commercially successful by limiting the discussion to things that result in algorithmically good "conversational health."

It's just a bit disappointing to see us take yet another step away from free expression--particularly in this case because it follows major Democratic senators threatening action if they don't [1].

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/1/16591646/facebook-senate-...

You can submit research proposals to Twitter about this commitment, and get funding for it. (I think they are after peer review research level proposals, rather than "ban $politician")


* Your proposed health metrics, and methods for capturing, measuring, evaluating and reporting on such metrics

* Anticipated resource requirements and methodology

* Proposed output from your proposal and estimated time needed to capture, measure and evaluate health metrics

* Relevant, peer-reviewed, publications and papers

Why is there not a national public social platform? Certainly this has been discussed, yet in all my years of geekery, I haven't come across a conversation about it.

Whenever the topic of YouTube/Facebook/Twitter censorship comes up, it always ends in "Well, it's their platform so they can do what they want". That's true. But don't we need a platform where they can't, that is owned by we the people?

The Internet itself used to be owned by the public and the government privatized it.

Yeah they are so concerned. If they had started adding decent shadow-ignore capabilities to curb the harassment ten years ago, it would already have been scandalously late. Twitter is what it is, and no amount of executive window dressing could change that. If they were a firm capable of major functionality updates (or profit!), they would have shown some sign of that before now.

Civility is nice, but I don't think it's what's fundamentally wrong with Twitter. One can (and people do) express hateful ideas quite politely.

Preserving some concept of free speech while also preventing it from growing into an ideological cesspool is required to give Twitter net positive societal value, but mere civility ain't that.

Twitter is deeply depressing. Their best feature, lists is lost and goes completely unnoticed. Meanwhile we get moments plus hashtags which link us to literally every minor iteration of the exact same story. A measure of madness?

Looks like Twitter finally reached a level of toxicity that it's negatively impacting shareholder value.

Online trolls love figuring out and exploiting automated systems. Any computer-evaluated "health metric" will just become another weapon in their hands. You need human moderators!

Twitter should just realize they are the "you're gonna have to throw one away" of global-scale internet discourse and just shut it down and try again.

Twitter might have its quirks. But the truth is that the content on the internet been supplanted by these mega-malls, called Google, Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and VK, and such. And these mega-malls want to be everything to everyone. And at the same time they are aiming for the lowest common denominator just to attract more and more people to its platforms. So, of course the quality of content and discussions will go down. These platforms control the digital ad market. Real journalists can barely survive. Fake news proliferate. Internet is becoming increasingly similar to the strip malls you see everywhere around you, and they have all the same offerings of choices (McDonald's, Subway, Verizon store, etc). Here's a good read: https://www.medgadget.com/2018/03/google-serfdom-publishing-...

On the one hand I am hopeful because it is a decent sentiment about a real problem and because Twitter is the only possible entity in a position to fix it. On the other, the format of the message suggests how daunting the task is.

     Thanks for taking the time to read and consider, 
     and also, come help us:
    |       |                                       |
    |       |     Twitter Careers                   |
    |       |     careers.twitter.com               |
    |       |                                       |
Twitter does not make it easy to know when to STFU.

This is kinda related to the topic, but does anyone have any resources relating to how we as humans are not phycologically ready for mass communication on the scale that we have today? I know it's broad , worth a shot though.

Not communication directly, but I’ve been reading Future Shock and found many of the points relevant even 50 years later. One that comes to mind: the past few generations have seen an enermous erosion of belief in institutions and systems that once gave people purpose (religion, family, community, craftsmanship, ...) This, combined with extremely rapid change, has left a lot of people feeling unmoored and lost in their own time. How they react to this is unpredictable but it is often strange or sad, and sometimes even dangerous

Twitter should implement federation with an open protocol: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ActivityPub

I've been strongly doubting that there is such a thing as "the collective health and society." At best, we're in a growing pains situation as a species. At worst, we're simply not built to have this type of communication. There is nothing in nature that makes me think this simple, open-sky way to "communicate" with hundreds of thousands of faceless people is necessary.

I think this might call for some fundamental changes to their algorithms. Maybe automatically penalize hate filled comments/flame wars and reward conversation that adds "value". Maybe charge bots on a per post basis? Perhaps reward real users with utility tokens like steem?

I’m sorry Jack, but just log into your own service and try to read the message you just posted, and maybe it will dawn on you why Twitter as it currently exists is antithetical to healthy and civil conversation.

And once you’ve lost trust (which you have on all sides) any steps or “measures” you implement will inherently be distrusted.

Good luck with your “hate machine” as another poster aptly describes it. You’re going to have to dig a lot deeper than sentiment analysis to find anything close to redemption.

I look forward to seeing how they are going to deal with the US President's tweets from this point forward.

Or for that matter look at the replies to Trump's tweets if you want an example of vile hatred.

Isn't this what their "Trust and Safety" Comittee was for?

They should create an authenticated badge on Twitter, if you confirm your identity, you can get one, then users could filter by “authentic badge only” so you’d experience twitter with only vetted, real people. This would greatly reduce trolls imho.

This is something which can be done and is easily achievable.

I have seen (and currently seeing) that to create an echo chamber a certain number of troll armies have to create it one first, trend it and then people take over from that.

Having a verified tag will really help and go long way. Sure, even the KYC process will hurt and potentially can be gamed with but having this visual cues will alert the user about the source and maybe the authenticity of the content.

I think we've heard something similar from them for years now. When will it happen?

Twitter is now part of everyone's life in the U.S. given that the president uses it as a bullhorn. It needs to clean up its act, now.

First Amendment protections apply to suits brought by the government. Civil suits are required to prove damages ("quantum of damages"). There are opportunity cost, pre-judgement, and post-judgement interest calculations.


There are many open platforms. (I've contributed to those as well). Some are built on open standards. None of said open platforms have procedures or resources for handling the onslaught of disrespectful trash that the people we've raised eventually use these platforms for communicating at other people who have feelings and understand the Golden Rule.


The initial early adopters (who have other better things to do) are fine: helpful, caring, critical, respectful; healthy. And then everyone else comes surging in with hate, disrespect, and vitriol; unhealthy. They don't even realize that being hateful and disrespectful is making them more depressed. They think that complaining and talking smack to people is changing the world. And then they turn off the phone or log out of the computer, and carry on with their lives.

No-one taught them to be the positive, helpful energy they want to attract from the world. No-one properly conditioned them to either respectfully disagree according to the data or sit down and listen. No-one explained to them that a well-founded argument doesn't fit in 140 or 280 characters, but a link and a headline do. No-one explained to them that what they write on the internet lasts forever and will be found by their future interviewers, investors, jurors, and voters. No-one taught them that being respectful and helpful in service of other people - of the group's success, of peaceful coexistence - is the way to get ahead AND be happy. "No-one told me that."

Shareholders of public corporations want to see growth in meaningless numbers, foreign authoritarian governments see free expression as a threat to their ever-so-fragile self-perceptions, political groups seek to frame and smear and malign and discredit (because they are so in need of group acceptance; because money still isn't making them happy), and there are children with too much free time reading all of these.

No-one is holding these people accountable: we need transparency and accountability. We need to focus on more important goals and feel good about helping; about volunteering our time to help others be happier.

Instead, now that these haters and scam artists have all self-identified, we must spend our time conditioning their communications until they learn to respectfully disagree on facts and data or go somewhere else. "That's how you feel? Great. How does that make your victim feel?" is the confrontation that some people are seeking from companies that set out to serve free speech and provide a forum for citizens to share the actual news.

Who's going to pay for that? Can they sue for their costs and losses? Advertisers do not want a spot next to hateful and disrespectful.

"How dare you speak of censorship in such veiled terms!?" Really? They're talking about taking down phrases like "kill" and "should die"; not phrases like "I disagree because:"

So, now, because there are so many hateful economically disadvantaged people in the world with nothing better to do and no idea how to run a business or keep a job with benefits, these companies need to staff 24 hour a day censors to take down the hate and terror and gang recruiting within one hour. What a distorted mirror of our divisively fractured wealth inequality, indeed.

"Ban gangs ASAP, please: they'll just go away"

How much does it cost to pay prison labor to redundantly respond to this trash? Are those the skills they need to choose a different career with benefits and savings that meet or exceed inflation when they get out?

What is the procedure for referring threats of violence to justice in your jurisdiction? Are there wealthy individuals in your community who would love to contribute resources to this effort? Maybe they have some region-specific pointers for helping the have-nots out here trolling like it's going to get them somewhere they want to be in life?

Let me share a little story with you:

A person walks into a bar/restaurant, flicks off the bartender/waiter, orders 5 glasses of free water, starts plastering ads to the walls and other peoples' tables, starts making threats to groups of people cordially conversing, and walks out.

Great, more censorship and them determining what is "fake news"

Man. This is exactly what happened to the democrats.

"Committing twitter" sounds like a crime. An all-too-common one at that.

I read it in the "committed to an asylum" sense. And that it must be Tim Berners-Lee talking, until you see the source.


There's like two things that I want from Twitter as someone who buys internet clicks:

Lower prices. More cost effectiveness. Those two things are two things that Twitter has never offered.

The political/philosophical diversity of awardees will illuminate just how genuine this effort is.

Interestingly, these social media companies which are engaging in censorship are now being reminded that if they decide to censor by politics, they may be held liable for everything posted to their platform.

First things first, Twitter. Small baby steps before you shoot yourself in the foot.

Focus first and foremost on getting rid of radicalizing terrorist content. That has been on your backlog for years now, while you prioritized more pressing matters, such as cutting off access to developers and apps. You kind of owe it to society and the parents of your teenage users to make this right.

Then, when it is 2023, go after the grieving trolls. Those who mock suicide victim families, DOX innocents, post indecent pictures of naked black people doing lewd things to watermelons. Some people may even help report such things manually for free.

Then bots. Kill 99% of all bots, keep only those with a 1000+ legit followers, or make bot owners verify them with a cute droid badge.

Then after one of Trump's tweets starts WWIII, and you are as significant as Myspace, maybe you can have a look at the health and civility of online conversation.

I'd start with a "My Safe Space" button, where you can automatically unsubscribe to all posts about a certain topic/containing a certain trigger word. If you can't wait that long, there is an easy fix to remove 50% of uncivil content by going back to a 140 character limit. I feel that was closer to the healthy and civilized discussion platform you envisioned Twitter to be when you started it.

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