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Don't let social media think for you (disgustinglyoptimistic.com)
406 points by hnthrowaway2 15 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 254 comments



The mob is a huge problem with Twitter (and adjacent social media), and the issue with a mob is purely that of its size. It's the size that makes the mob, and everyone who has ever considered chiming in to add their voice why so-and-so was bad should stop to think about whether the world really needs that additional voice. Each individual voice may be perfectly right. So-and-so may really have done wrong. But did they really do such wrong that the 10,000th voice is needed?

I am ashamed to say I've done it myself, back when I was on Twitter. My feed would start lighting up with some really Bad thing that so-and-so said -- and generally it was "Bad" -- and I'd add my voice somewhere to that cacophony. Not necessarily writing to the Bad Person, but chiming in on someone's long thread.

Now I look back and see I was another participant in the mob.

Look, the author described in the post absolutely did herself no favors. Her book may have been great, but the way she interacted with people on social media was absolutely not. But being the 10,000th person to tell her that is never necessary. That's just wanting to join a mob, because mobs are fun, because you're all justified in this act together.

Mobs are scary, because everyone thinks they are justified. A good friend of mine grew up in Kenya and recounted that when he was about nine, he saw a mob catch a thief. Joining in with everyone else, he took a wire and whipped the man. Next thing he knew, the crowd had put tires over the alleged thief and set him on fire. He has never forgotten the guilt he felt.


Also, if you end up having to announce your take on every "bad" thing that happens, your feed becomes nothing but commentary on the bad takes, almost always identical to everyone else, and you dillute or lose what makes you interesting in the process.

I've seen this in my own feed. Any time some "bad" person is exposed, I'm almost guaranteed to scroll past 30 almost identical takes on it by the same 30 people on my friends list. I click them, and 80% of their feed is just their takes on the daily outrage du jour. I don't really know who they actually are as people anymore, unless this is the entirety of their being now.

So now as a general rule I don't post anything about current events on social media, and stick with things actually about myself. I might make a comment on someone else's post sometimes, but not post about it myself.

I will probably make an exception here or there about climate change, because in my opinion that subject is being way too glossed over by society as a whole and is a much larger and more imminent threat than "this person did a bad thing and we must shun them now".


The meme of "if you don't speak up, you're complicit" is part of this.

I appreciate the sentiment, but there are just too many (terrible!) inequities in the world to live by this and not have it be a full time preoccupation.


Also, is social media really the best way to take action against terrible inequity? I would think if one believes the uninvolved are complicit, they would also look for more effective methods than saying something is bad on Twitter.



I have been thinking about this and related things for a long time now, while I haven't quite got the hang of putting it all together into words, this is my take on the current subject:

Humans have a need for a certain kind of emotional high, that in whatever way, people find a source. Some people find it in competition, drugs, sex, music, art, creation, fear, ... there's probably a whole taxonomy in there.

One of the ways people find it is in social displays of moral superiority. People hated this about organized religions and left in droves, and yet here we are with the exact same behavior.

There probably was a very valid evolutionary reason why this is so prevalent in humans, but like most things that make us feel good, uncontrolled they get taken to terrible extremes.

The point is recognizing that this behavior is a need finding a source of stimulation. If you want to fix it you have to find better sources for that feeling and recognize what is happening... and distribute that recognition into the public consciousness.


...And some of the "sweetest" emotional highs come at the expense of other people, sort of like the most savory food seems to be derived from animals.

I want to be careful not to "speak something into existence", as I heard someone say recently, but it occurred to me this morning that if someone is your enemy, you probably derive pleasure from their pain. I kind of feel like our society is in denial that many of its members are "soft mutual enemies" of a sort. It seems if things went wrong (e.g. food shortages etc.) it could become a serious problem. (Personally I "pray for my enemies" when I'm in my right mind, but I have doubts as to whether it makes up for the vitriol when I'm not.)

As for the parent's post's concern for global warming, using less can be emotionally satisfying.

And if big oil is standing in the way, maybe they should be offered the position of producing solar energy systems. (Similarly if drugs were legalized it might make more sense to offer the cartels the position of distribution.)


To me the easiest way to understand social media is to read Freud's Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. It is a brilliant book as it is really just Freud commentating on The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind by Gustave Le Bon.

The most basic idea is once you join a psychological group you stop being fully rational and mostly act on emotions driven by the group.

Everything just makes sense after digesting parts of that book.

The part you mention about organized religions is also just the group.


That’s why I quit Twitter. I use to have four topic-specific accounts. However, it eventually ended up that I was seeing the same outrage du jour on all four and that’s when it was time for me to leave.


I've "muted" quite a few people on various social media apps who essentially just are reposting some quote or post from someone else who is outraged about xyz current woke topic. Almost daily these people will share some new thing to be outraged about.

Of course do they actually ever do anything beyond sharing a post and acting like a good person? Nope. I don't see these people volunteer, donate, or do anything except share crap. So when they are someone I know in some way I just mute them instead of unfollowing.


Twitter is a particularly well refined mob machine. No room for nuance, distribution at the speed of light directly into your feed and/or Trending, participants immediately rewarded for generating and spreading outrage.

I get that a lot of this was unintentional, but the dynamic has now been known for a decade and has only gotten worse. Why has Twitter the company and its employees not taken action to deal with this? Instead spending their time creating tools and methods to censor non-mob participants? (e.g. those who were exploring the lab leak hypothesis) Why isn't the mob a top priority?


> Why isn't the mob a top priority?

Part of that is the incentives going in the opposite direction, as other commenters have noted.

Even assuming they are in good faith, though, I believe it is an extremely difficult problem. Building and maintaining large scale communities is next to impossible, you can't just turn off a switch and make the mob go away, a mob is, by definition, out of control.

Historically, we have solved this problem by effectively limiting access to large scale communication, with small elites acting as gatekeepers. Social media tore down the metaphorical wall, allowing any random person to talk to anybody who will listen.

This is, by and large, a good thing. However, those elites did play a role, because they could keep each other in check and enforce standards of behavior that would prevent the worst abuses.

So the question is not how we go back to the 70s or something (yet again, the change is overall in the right direction), but how we can replace the missing piece. Needless to say, I don't even know where to start.


Large-scale community is an oxymoron, and I think the sooner we realise that the better.

Communities are built on trust and relationships, what happens at social platforms is that people with "large communities" are just creating followings the same way that celebrities always have, which are a weird modern corruption of the idea of a community (or if you want the academic term for it, a parasocial relationship).


I think of Hacker News as a community, but it's still large enough that you don't really notice who is posting.

What makes a difference to me are the insights you get here combined with thoughtful answers, as in rarely the lowest common denominator type of discussions.

For that there are all too many forgettable social media sites.


Hacker News isn't a community in any meaningful sense. I have had interpersonal interactions with maybe half a dozen people from here, all very positive but I don't know these people like I know my neighbours or my friends or even the people who work at the local shop.

Hacker News is a very large and impersonal forum. You can have interesting conversations on a forum, but the degree to which they are a community is the degree to which you develop relationships with the other people. I wouldn't call /r/videos (or any other massive subreddit) a community either, and they have the same level of social intimacy.


> Hacker News is a very large and impersonal forum

Agreed. Aside from recognizing some familiar usernames[1], unless you know someone from IRL or via another social media platform, the posts all 'pseudo-anonymously' blend together. The standardized comment formats, fonts, and command bar next to each comment help make it so, even if you perform per-page custom styling.

[1] my personal list OTOMH is tctpateck(sp?), dragonwriter, doreenmichelle, dang(ok thats a gimme), sklabnik


Exactly. Many times I've typed out a comment and at the last moment refrain from posting, because I feel it doesn't really add to the discussion. I'd rather there be less higher-quality comments, than many comments like mine justing adding +1. Ironically, I almost deleted this comment.


It took me years, (I don't mean that to sound like I was trying) but I have actually started recognising quite a few usernames. Not even particularly prolific/high karma users, or at least not only them, just people with some common interests so we're frequently reading/commenting on the same things I suppose.


People with huge followings are just e-celebs, but one can be a (shallow) part of a large community of people with similar interests in a particular topic. To the extent that you have somethin gin common with other people, and to the extent that that thing is unusual or costly in some fashion, you'll typically going to feel a sense of connection to someone you hear or read about without necessarily knowing them.


Yes I think there are two things that are needed to form bonds: small numbers, and common context. Having a common interest in motorcycle repair or horticulture or something works, but HN's common interest is just commenting on the Internet and probably being a programmer, which isn't significant to bond over even disregarding the huge group size.


You're definitely right. If you don't personally know and somewhat trust other people in your community, chances are it's not really a community at all.


> This is, by and large, a good thing.

I don't agree that social media (qua social networks) has moved us in the right direction.

Web forums and blogs were better.

I don't think we need to find the missing piece. I think we need to remove the unnecessary, super profitable poison.

Something like private, self hosted forums with universal log in, but no cross-contamination of "likes" and comments, and no algorithmic attention management.

I think I need to write my senators.


> Web forums and blogs were better.

I don't think they were inherently better. And don't get me wrong, I have a mostly positive experience with forums and blogs and an extremely negative experience with social networks, eventually I deleted every single account I am not required to have for work-related reasons.

However, I believe the underlying reason is that pre-Facebook communities were more "selective". Being part of those forums or reading blogs was more of a deliberate choice rather than the societal average, something like HN, early Slashdot or early Reddit. This resulted in user bases that were not cross-sections of the general population.

In the alternate universe where forums and blogs became the mainstream, I believe we would have seen the same problems.

Algorithmic feeds are literally evil incarnate and I'd love nothing more than to see them nuked out of existence, but I don't think they are the root of the problem, at least not in this particular case.


I think I can break your point down into two smaller facets:

* the notion of voluntary association. How many social media users use social media because they think they're supposed to? Voluntary association facilitates the perception of good faith on the part of others by its nature.

* the type of user, e.g. an enthusiast vs otherwise. A lot of social media's problems stem from it's crazy scale, which, as a byproduct, increases the amount of bad apples and their visibility.

Forums and their ilk had similar problems with cabals and such, but the fact that they weren't the single destination to be made the stakes lower. I can see a future where we cede current social networks to the very online crowd and let them continue to play their power games in their own little sandbox while the rest of the world moves on.


Better for whom? Most people out there aren't able to produce their own thoughts and have an attention span of a frog. They wouldn't know what to write in a blog. Bursts of primitive emotions is the only thing that distracts them from dull reality. Social media is great for these people: it's a stadium where they come, shout at each other and go home, feeling fulfilled and morally superior.


What could be changed about twitter to make this better? The entire design feeds right into this. I've heard it said that it was intended to be a place for good discussion, but I really don't believe that. Good discussion isn't had 140 characters at a time. The whole point of the site is to give everyone a megaphone.


A good start would be:

Remove the algorithmic feed

Remove the Trending bar

Increase character length

Ban witch hunts


Use https://tweetdeck.twitter.com/ - normal chronological feed and no trending anything. Then prune your following. I don't see any witch hunts; my feed is generally very positive.


I have tweets come up in chronological rather than selected order, and it's still crap on a regular bases because people are crap. There's not much you can do besides unfollowing people who are consistently annoying or vapid.

I think retweets/quote tweets are a bigger problem. I can understand why a large number of people I follow might tweet about the same thing, but I don't need to see that thing reproduced 10 times.


> I've heard it said that it was intended to be a place for good discussion

What? No. Where had you heard that? Twitter was meant to be SMS in the Internet - for quick comments, quick news, quick updates, short notices, short etc.


When everyone has a megaphone you only hear the people who are screaming next to you.


because it makes money. Why would they want to stop it? People have a weird mental model where they think private companies are the government. They're just a group of people getting paid to make money for investors.


Is it really only the job of government to make ethical decisions? Surely companies and employees can and should try to be ethical. Just because there is profit involved doesn't mean that we should throw out our humanity.


The point is, there are a lot of conflicting ways to be 'ethical'. It's not like we have a universal loss function we should minimize.

Any moral dilemma slightly more complicated than 'is killing wrong' is a tradeoff, and sometimes you can't blame people if they prefer a point on the curve different from the point on the curve you like.

Maybe in this case they are just wrong -- I have no sympathy for Twitter either. But I'd rather companies, in general, not try and play God. Even more so, I really would rather the government not try and play God.


> Any moral dilemma slightly more complicated than 'is killing wrong' is a tradeoff

Even killing is a trade off. Every country has a military of some sort. Every village has some form of police that can kill (some are much more likely to kill than others, but eventually all police forces can bring on death if the situation is bad enough). There have been cannibal societies in history (not very common from what I can tell, but they did exist) that would give a different answer as to what killing is moral than most of us.


In the end, the government answers to the people and companies answer to shareholders. Of course I agree that companies should be ethical, but they currently have no incentive to do so other than their own morals and I'd imagine those are pretty quickly squashed in the face of shareholders looking for profits and an "everybody else is doing it" argument.

Companies like Twitter and Facebook exist and thrive because they have taken the less ethical route.


They should, but they mostly don't.

And I don't think it's easy; I suspect corporations do bad things despite the good intentions of employees. Each one, driven by subtle incentives, makes a somewhat less ethically sound decision than they would otherwise. And the effects of those decisions are often abstracted away from the decision-makers. The status quo gradually becomes worse and worse.


> Is it really only the job of government to make ethical decisions?

one of the theoretical principals of capitalism is that free markets allow people to use their money as a proxy for ethical support and ethical decision making.

this principal is theoretical because of straight up apathy - people just cant be fucked. there are other minor contributing factors like information asymmetry, but the real issue with capitalism, like any politcal/economic system, is the people. PEBKAC.

if people cared and the market was free enough, ethical companies would simply put others out of business.


Work requires compromising ourselves. We do this for survival. There is no way to make most tech ethical. It’s an economic reality that is quite evident in the historical data. When was the last time we had an ethical tech company? We have apple, facebook and google, all evil in slightly different ways, all taking more from humanity than they give back.


> Why has Twitter the company and its employees not taken action to deal with this?

They did. They tried many things, still do. But it's hard to fix without wasting the whole platform and becoming another reddit. What makes Twitter great is also what makes it aweful.


Just goes to show how the fundamental design decisions guide how the system as a whole will behave. Short messages and no coherent threading makes for a perfect breeding ground for snark and hot takes. It's hard to say something thoughtful in 280 characters, but it's easy to say something nasty.

You can spend tons of money on trust & safety, tweaks to the UI, whatever. But a bad system design is still a bad system design.

It's kind of like trying to make an old C codebase secure by throwing in lots of calls to strlen() and changing some sprintf()'s to snprintf(). It may help a little, but it's not enough to turn the ship.


Facebook doesn't have the same 280 character limit, yet it suffers from similar problems.


Good point. Another hypothesis then: The real problem is the ad-driven "curation" that selects for drama and outrage to keep users "engaged" so they stay on the site for longer to view more ads.

This would explain why "social media" like FB and Twitter are so much worse than their predecessors (blogs, forums, email, sms, ...). All of the previous media could be bad too, but this is different.


Twitter is largely a platform for self-promotion. This Hough lady wanted to promote her snarky attitude and encourage her followers to dunk on people who leave book reviews on GoodReads. it's a good example of 'be careful what you ask for'; if you cultivate attention in order to be toxic, you can't really complain when that rebounds upon you.

It's often not the case that people see a mob forming and jump in, in most cases. What people see is someone they know quote-tweeting an obnoxious person, or someone they already follow saying something obnoxious, and they condemn the obnoxious behavior. The more engagement an original tweet gets the more likely other people are to see it in their feed, regardless of whether it's obnoxious, funny, or whatever.

One time I replied to a sanctimonious statement from a politician with a mildly critical but also mildly witty reply, read a few other tweets and went on with my day. I don't get notifications from Twitter and was astonished to find the next day that my tweet had blown up and been quoted in a national publication. In fact all of my 'high performing' tweets over the years have been casual witticisms, but I've never seen one take off in real time because I only look at it intermittently. I suggest that rather than an angry mob, what you're seeing is simply the aggregation of multiple similar reactions. Few to none of those were necessarily invested with enormous significance by the people making them, unlike a real world mob.

This is not to say, of course, that theren't people who like going around condemning others, and Twitter does have a habit of showing you multiples of people posting about the same thing, as opposed to showing The Thing once and observing that 10 people you follow have left comments about it.


> Why has Twitter the company and its employees not taken action to deal with this?

Because it's not their job to moderate this stuff.

Angry, pissed off, outraged users are, from the perspective of social media companies, the best users. They refresh constantly (so more ad views), they come back constantly, and if they've gone away for too long, you can just figure out what's likely to piss them off the most, send them a notification, and they're right back into the ad delivery mill, engaged and outraged.

And all that means more money for the company. Which is their interest.

YouTube's guiding goal (at least some years back, as I heard it) was to increase hours watched. Period. Hours watched was the metric they optimized for, above all else. And it showed in the various recommendations that looked very broken from the outside world, but those tended to add hours watched.

I don't think the algorithms were nearly smart enough to know that they were recommending some conspiracy theorist gateway video, or extreme political content, or such. They simply knew, "If we get people to watch this video, they will then spend a lot more time on YouTube." So, the more people that watch that video one way or another, the more hours watched, problem improved! It's very "paperclip maximizer" seeming sort of algorithm.

Given that it's been known for years how to "drive your users nuts to keep them coming back" and social media companies have refined this to near perfection (it's Vegas in your pocket, without any of the regulations and rules Vegas casinos have to abide by), I'm in favor of some regulation on this sort of stuff, but I'm not at all sure it will actually matter. :/


"So what if our AI is becoming self-aware and making questionable decisions? Or job is to win government contracts" - skynet employee, August 3rd, 1997 :)


> Because it's not their job to moderate this stuff

And I'm not sure it would be better if it were. I don't care if a bunch of people I've never met are talking about what a horrible person I am (well ok, I do, but that's more of a me problem than a them problem). I do care when my employer joins the mob and ignores any evidence I might present of my innocence. What we need are for the people who can mete out the consequences to start thinking longer and harder before they capitulate to the outrage mob. A little less "better him than me" and a little more "I'd hate to be treated this way myself".


> it's Vegas in your pocket, without any of the regulations and rules Vegas casinos have to abide by

> I'm in favor of some regulation on this sort of stuff

You really nailed the problem but I am not so sure about your solution. The gambling industry's regulations do not do very much to reduce the volume of lives ruined by the gambling industry.

We've been gambling since the paleolithic period, and like other vices, its regulation serves largely to hide it from public view, rather than actually fix any social problems. Regulating social media in any meaningful way will do the same; compliance with these regulations will force the issue further into the corporate depths and away from public view.

We already know the social media firms collude with governments around the world in secretive tribunals to deal with issues of "national security." We don't want to encourage further developments on this front.


> The gambling industry's regulations do not do very much to reduce the volume of lives ruined by the gambling industry.

No, but if I walk into a casino, there's at least some chance I can come out with more money than I went in with.

Consider a slot machine app. Not only do you have no idea what the payout is, you're guaranteed to lose money if you pay for any coins in that game, which I assure you, people do. For reasons I don't understand, but I've seen it happen.


Not defending online casinos, but there are some people who enjoy playing slot machines even without the possibility of winning money, just like some people like playing Candy Crush -- or Call of Duty, for that matter.


A lot of people strike gold on social media, as well.

The list of people who had their 15 minutes of fame on social media platforms is endless and constantly growing.


Companies have moral responsibilities. Societies must incentivize and regulate companies such that they strive to meet these responsibilities.

In addition, individual citizens (not “consumers” or “users”) matter immensely as well. Companies are aggregations of individuals and the behavior of each of us determines the behavior of companies. The cultural, legal, biological, and environmental factors that affect all of us individuals determine the macro behaviors of companies and governments. We can and must strive to improve these factors and thus improve the macro dynamics.

Obviously, the details of this will involve endless debate and there are many ways to approach the problem. But if we don’t try, we are asking to live in a shitty world.

P.S. These are rough thoughts that I quickly typed up and could definitely use some polishing. Some other time…


> Angry, pissed off, outraged users are, from the perspective of social media companies, the best users

In the long term, these users make a community toxic and less viable in the long run. People don't come back after a long enough time.


Engagement


> The mob is a huge problem with Twitter (and adjacent social media), and the issue with a mob is purely that of its size.

There can be no mob without twitter's involvement.

There are always two parts to social media; social media the people at scale and social media the recommendation engine with impulse driven features that actively rank orders and promotes what content meets what eyes. By definition internet brings the scale, i.e. the size. But size in itself does not create a mob. You could walk around in a crowded square and mumble all the controversial things to yourself; people will at most give a bad stare, but mostly ignore you, a mob will not form after you.

It would take a shit-stirrer to actively salience the thing you said to the people in that crowd who would be most motivated to come after you.

Twitter et al are the shit-stirrers that makes money every time they can make a person engage with a content, regardless of the thoughtfulness or the sentiment of the engagement.


The twitter mob can come for you too.

If you're mis-identified and doxxed then your life can be in danger.

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/what-its-like-to-get...

And the consequences for the accuser are nothing.


I think there should be a bit less focus on the 'the mob' and a bit more on the platform.

“We are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying the below individual in reference to an assault that took place this morning on the Capital Crescent trail. Please contact Det. Lopez with any information,” read a tweet sent June 2 from the department and shared more than 55,000 times.

But the Park Police had made an error. “Correction, the incident occurred yesterday morning, 6/1/2020,” they wrote in a follow up tweet. As with most such clarifications, it had only a fraction of the reach: a mere 2,000 shares.

[...]

On Twitter, Maryland attorney general Brian Frosh [...] had asked all of Twitter for help finding the man in the video. “If anyone can identify this man, please let me know,” he said, and nearly 50,000 people retweeted him.

[...] He sent a tweet confirming that there was a suspect and “it is not Mr. Weinberg.” (228 retweets.)

Relying on people to amplify accuracy and context is doomed to failure because people react to sensation. You show a video of a person doing something awful, naturally there will be a big reaction. The follow up tweet specifying some overlooked but important detail is simply not emotionally activating the same way.

However, it is within Twitter's capability to automatically propagate that additional context/correction to everyone who interacted with the original tweet. Indeed, it's within Twitter's capability to force them to look at the update and not proceed with using Twitter until they've acknowledged it.

Another approach could be that when a public figure (especially an authority figure) makes a mistake like this, they should be billed for the cost of advertising the correction to an equivalently large audience.


> And the consequences for the accuser are nothing.

That's a great point. Accusers are not only incentivized to whip up a mob, but have virtually no downside. No skin in the game if they're wrong. That asymmetry needs to be resolved somehow.


> Each individual voice may be perfectly right. So-and-so may really have done wrong. But did they really do such wrong that the 10,000th voice is needed?

This is how I felt yesterday reading the repl.it thread.


If you don't feel like it will perpetuate it, what thread are you talking about?



There's a weird biological thing at play here. As if we have a reflex to clean what too many people agree on.

But so many time it ends up being entirely wrong I really wonder why it's still at play.

We kinda had to invent justice structures to avoid blunt reactions.

Also who thinks internet focuses too much on endless debates and abnormal relations. Did we spend so much time arguing before ? I'm so jaded I just want sharing chitchat jokes and food and nothing more. And I kinda believe that it's a more balanced approach to society. But i'm kinda digressing (an proving the opposite of my point partly)


But of course -- compared to what?

Twitter sounds awful in a vacuum if described like this, and indeed it does have lots of problems. But, if we are going to have very huge and influential corporate sources of information, Twitter is MUCH more defensible than e.g. MSNBC/CNN/Fox, in that its significantly more "little d" democratic. The thousands of voices available there are far better than the tiny few coming from many other sources, and because the platform is generally "open" in that we can see what others post.

I think Twitter is actually doing an excellent job, given the incredible difficulties involved with what it does, especially as compared to a Facebook, etc.


Most of trends have less than 10k comments/likes/.... Etc. That means only 0.00014 percent people of the planet. Rest don't know or don't care. That realisation made me not to bother about latest outrage.

Whole Twitter experience become so much better when you only keep to people you like. Don't think twice to unfollow someone.


Listening to only people you like sounds like a privilege to me. I bet, a few years down the road Twitter will stuff the feed of such purists with a more diverse set of viewpoints.


Meh; the situation was pointed out to people like you at the time. All the drawing of parallels with events in history, all the calls for reason and rationality and all the highlighting of holes in logic didn't do anything to stop the problem.

Your words now will make as much impact on the people you hope it will as they would have had at the time on you.


> Next thing he knew, the crowd had put tires over the alleged thief and set him on fire.

Ah, yes. Necklacing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necklacing


This is some liveleak shit I'm maybe glad I didn't see.


Too graphic for LiveLeak. It would be on documentingreality instead.

Also, from the wiki, in 1986, Winnie Mandela, then-wife of the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, stated, "With our boxes of matches, and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country", which was widely seen as an explicit endorsement of necklacing. Lovely.


It definitely wouldn't have been too graphic for liveleak a few years ago. There was plenty of cartel videos for example.

> But did they really do such wrong that the 10,000th voice is needed?

Size is power, and size comes from Engagment. Each voice gives more attention to the problem and prevents it from sinking in the ocean of meaninglessness of twitter. At least for the moment the topic is trending.

> I am ashamed to say I've done it myself, back when I was on Twitter. My feed would start lighting up with some really Bad thing that so-and-so said -- and generally it was "Bad" -- and I'd add my voice somewhere to that cacophony. Not necessarily writing to the Bad Person, but chiming in on someone's long thread.

And now you are here; is this not the same?

> Mobs are scary, because everyone thinks they are justified.

Who says they are not? It's just one little voice. One of many, but still one.

Whether it's justified is more a matter of perspective. In the end it's just people talking and gossiping, they have no real power. But people are giving them power by listening to them. But it's also questionable how many are doing this. At the end the mob is still a single voice of many, maybe moving something, maybe not.

> A good friend of mine grew up in Kenya and recounted that when he was about nine, he saw a mob catch a thief. Joining in with everyone else, he took a wire and whipped the man. Next thing he knew, the crowd had put tires over the alleged thief and set him on fire. He has never forgotten the guilt he felt.

Ok, that's definitly a different dimension than Twitter. That's not your typical cybermob. Though, there is also this insanity spreading from Virtual Places to real world. But this is not limited to Twitter. Reddit has their dark history in that area, as also facebook, discord, even ancient IRC and usenet had this crap.


> And now you are here; is this not the same?

...no, because I'm not participating in a mob here?


It's not the actions that we need to address, just the number of people doing them?


I'm confused how this comment relates in any way to the question of whether my existing on Hacker News is the "same thing" as participating in an online mob against a person.


Oh, are you simply existing here? Nothing else?

I am positive you are not blind to the parallels between your current actions and the actions of which you claim to be ashamed.

I imagine the distinctions matter more to you than the similarities, but I honestly cannot tell why. Are you now better than the twitter user because less people use hacker news? Or are you better because the people you shame are faceless rather than a specific individual? Or is it simply because you reached the top of the comments section rather than being the 10000th voice?

I don't condemn you. I believe you should be allowed to speak your opinion. I just don't support your condemnation of others, especially the fallacious comparison to a violent, physical mob.


What? What individual have I shamed here? I have no idea what you are talking about.

Remember Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" from secondary school? [0] Fundamentally these coordinated social media attacks are witch hunts. When the 'good feminists' viciously attacked Margret Atwood accusing her of being a 'bad feminist' as she strongly supported due process defending a male professor being accused of sexually impropriety is the moment when these modern witch hunts went too far. More so than when Reddit misidentified the Boston Bomber or other instances. The moment they attacked Margret Atwood they attacked the very idea of due process which she strongly warned women about in her book "The Handmaid's Tale". Nonetheless, it is part of the human condition how we organize into social structures whether being a small town in New England or a capitalist economy to join groups attacking someone else since it prevents the focus of the attack being on ourselves.

The only way out is through due process and supporting it even for the worst of the worst.

(EDIT: Weak downvoting this comment without responding with a counter comment.)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crucible


I can't speak for the people who downvoted you, but I'll bet you a USB stick that the reason you got downvoted is because of "When the 'good feminists' viciously attacked Margret Atwood accusing her of being a 'bad feminist'".

Some people have reached a point where not even disagreeing with them, but simply mentioning someone they don't like in a positive light or mentioning someone they do like in a negative light, no matter how factual the statement is, will get you downvoted.

They can't even articulate it, hence why you didn't get any responses - they just got used to being in their echo chamber where their opinions are always echoed and fervently applauded. After a while, whatever the echo chamber promulgates becomes that person's ground reality. As soon as they see something that disagrees with this reality - it is an offense to them and their whole worldivew, but they can't argue for their beholden view or against the offending view, so they have an emotional outburst.

I've met a few people who proclaimed themselves to be very politically educated individuals, but as soon as it came to a debate they'd get frustrated by failing to answer basic questions about their opinions and excuse themselves. No wonder, who wants their whole paradigm to be crashed in one evening?


Heaven forbid someone challenges a persons ideas without directly attacking that person. Making objective observations is not far from threatening everyone in the office by only focusing on and being talented at a job. On this topic, Plato pointed out millennia ago in his Socratic way -- how do we know we understand something if we don't discuss it with someone else?

> Lauren being accused of trans/biphobia (Lauren herself identifies as gay)

In the context of OP's link, it is fair to respond with reference to the attacks on Margret Atwood that accused her of being a 'bad feminist'. Atwood directly addressed the issue of a failed legal system but also asked the still unanswered question, what should replace it, swarms on the internet? [0] Sadly, I probably agree with most of the people frustrated downvoting me. Moreover, I'm adding to the conversation that Lauren is having about due process not in a legal court but rather in the court of public opinion and personal attacks on the internet as it has hurt not only Margret Atwood but Al Franken or closer to home, Douglas Crockford which at the time paradoxically hurt young women with computer science degrees finishing school looking for work more than it hurt Crockford.

This morning I was thinking about making a Reddit / Hacker News clone with one small change to the algorithm. Can't downvote a post or comment without making a response. It used to be fun to have debates on the internet.

[0] https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:J8YvMk...


HANGMAN: Now, you're wanted for murder.

For the sake of my analogy, let's just assume that you did it.

Now, John Ruth wants to take you back to Red Rock to stand trial for murder.

And if you're found guilty, the people of Red Rock will hang you in the town square.

And, as the hangman, I will perform the execution.

And if all those things end up taking place, that's what civilized society calls justice.

However, if the relatives and the loved ones of the person you murdered were outside that door right now, and after busting down that door, they drug you out into the snow and hung you up by the neck, that would be frontier justice.

Now, the good part about frontier justice is it's very thirst-quenching.

The bad part is it's apt to be wrong as right.

Well, not in your case.

In your case, you'd have it coming.

But other people, maybe not so much.

OSWALDO: But ultimately, what's the real difference between the two?

HANGMAN: The real difference is me.

The hangman.

To me, it doesn't matter what you did.

When I hang you, I'll get no satisfaction from your death.

It's my job.

I hang you in Red Rock.

I move on to the next town.

I hang someone else there.

The man who pulls the lever that breaks your neck will be a dispassionate man.

And that dispassion is the very essence of justice.

For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.


>The man who pulls the lever that breaks your neck will be a dispassionate man.

>And that dispassion is the very essence of justice.

>For justice delivered without dispassion is always in danger of not being justice.

Based on the reporting I've read on the internal cultures of police departments and the wider "law enforcement" community (federal law enforcement, prison administration, etc) I am pretty skeptical that "justice" is dispassionate. Instead, I think these groups wrap themselves in a myth of dispassion while they place thumbs (and larger things) on the scale in a way that reflects their personal beliefs and biases.


It should probably be noted that the hangman proves to be quite passionate before the film is through.


Maybe the essence of justice is its effect, and by effect we're not talking about its effect on the accused but on the rest of society.

The political science class I took back in college (over 20 years ago now) began with the Oresteia trilogy, by Aeschylus. The issue there is between "frontier justice" (actually, blood feuds) and civil justice (justice of the polis). The message there is that there can be no civilization unless the people of a society sublimate their (intrinsic?) passion for frontier justice towards civil justice.

The myth, as you call it, is there to bind us as a society — as any myth does.

I don't know what movie is being referred to above, but the idea from that passage doesn't originate with the movie.


Justice is a process. It's much easier to agree on a process than the right outcome in a specific case. So society agrees on some reasonable process -- judges, juries, lawyers, and witnesses -- ahead of any specific crime.

When the process is followed in a specific case, people can accept it even if they don't like the outcome, because they had a hand in the process that produced the outcome. Over time you can improve the process. That's justice.


The Hateful Eight.

Really long (it's more of a stage play), but like most of Tarantino's films, the dialogue is stellar.


I think rrrrrrrrrrrryan is talking about the ideal scenario, in the real world there will always be some biases.


I’ve noticed a unfortunate conflation of word lynching with racism motivated homocide lately. Even from authorities (newspapers, lawyers, some state ACLU) that have to know they aren’t always the same.

I think the nuance of these specific injustices is important because the solutions are different. A killing could even be lawful but racist and therefor unjust, but that’s a distinct (albeit important) problem from mob violence or murder.


Lone Star beer used to have images under their bottle caps as puns[1]. One of them used an image of a noose as part of the puzzle, which was completely unrelated to race, or death - it was simply using the word as a similar word to "news".

Someone went apeshit on Twitter[2], and now all the puns are gone while Lone Star reviews them for sensitivity.

I'm politically liberal, and I'm fucking ashamed of the fact that this kind of stupid behavior is associated with liberal politics.

1. https://lonestarbottlecaps.com

2. https://www.mysanantonio.com/food/bars-drinks/article/what-h...


It is the same way that "the mob" identified the ok-hand as a symbol of hate.

There is a real desire to be outraged. The mob members get awarded with internet points and smug self-righteousness when they are outraged. Combined with the zero downside they face, _any_ amount of mental gymnastics to be outraged at something is worth it. That's how they can think a completely normal thing, that millions of people do, is suddenly a symbol of fascism or whatever.

See also: wearing red hats is "bad" according the mob[1][2]. Its a perfect metaphor, really. They can't bother to look at the hat and see if its MAGA or not, they just see something vaguely similar to something they don't like and go off. This one in particular annoys me because I have an actual "red hat" baseball cap from redhat the linux company. Its a really cool hat but I get snide comments every time I wear it. Absolutely ridiculous that the mere color red "triggers" some people.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/20/style/red-baseball-hats-m...

[2] https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/09/liberal-author-normal...


Hey, as a fellow Lone Star drinker, I really don't think it's possible to separate the noose from its history, particularly in our great state.

Sure, it's just a pun, but for many people it conjures a very particular image. They don't want to open their beer to an image of a noose, regardless its context. And really, the lone star is the emblem of the Republic of Texas which was founded in large part due to Mexico's outlawing of slavery.

The noose on a Lone Star bottle cap has this particular context. I think it's pretty gross and I'm glad they chose to remove it rather than defending it has "history" or something.

Really, though, I always buy the cans.


I just don't like the stink that someone made about it, and don't think it's that big a deal. Even had they quietly said "sure" to removing it, that would have been one thing, but to pander to the sensitive crowd irks me.

All that stuff you said may be true in the strictest sense, but I still think one has to train themselves to get mad about that kind of thing. It's unnatural to instantly get infuriated and see hate in a bottle top, is all.


You did not personally live through a time of repression and terror that that noose signified. You did not fear for the lives of yourself or your loved ones. There are plenty of people alive today who did.

The last black man lynched in Texas was in 1942. The last black man lynched in the US was in 1981. And the noose itself continued to be used as a symbol of terror, just like the burning cross.

No body had to "train" themselves to get mad at "that kind of thing," that was done by the people doing the lynchings.

> Even had they quietly said "sure" to removing it

You think there's any chance that that would have happened without someone making a "stink" about it?


There's no such thing as a noose that's unrelated to death. That's what they're for. The puzzle may not be related to death, but the noose is.

And in the US there's no such thing as a noose that's unrelated to race. They are being used, today, as racist threats. When a noose appears, lynching is the assumed meaning, and not just by black people [1].

So it's a good thing that Lone Star is taking a look at the entire project. Using a noose was a mistake. One presumably made in good faith, but a mistake nonetheless. So the right thing to do is pull not just it, but to make sure that they didn't make other mistakes -- a sign of good faith.

I'm all for accepting a good and sincere apology. A lot of people have made bad and insincere apologies, and not only does that not help, it makes things worse by giving people an excuse to pretend that good apologies aren't worth doing. This is a good choice and I'd encourage people to take that.

[1] https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/554694-amazon-closi...


I didn't downvote you, but a noose in a locker is wildly different from making a pun about "headline news", and to suggest otherwise is foolish.

"There is no such thing blah blah" - yes, there is, it's called context. Someone who feels threatened by a pun "headline news" with a noose is not properly adjusted to the adult world.

Do kids not play hangman anymore?

More broadly, I think twitter lowers the bar for whining and manufacturing rage. In a pre-Internet world, would that woman have cried, or otherwise been mortified at the beer top? Would she have taken a picture and sent it to the investigative reporter in Dallas where Lone Star is brewed? Or would she have gone "Huh, that's rude, how strange" and thrown it away?

It's easy to get wrapped up in the hate-think, and I think this is a case of it.


Yes, and a part of this context is that Lone Star invokes images of the old state of Texas. When they lean into this, if they are not careful, they lean into some really awful events. It's not the same as the same pun on a bottle of Snapple.


> in the US there's no such thing as a noose that's unrelated to race

People do frequently hang themselves, and there have been some stories of people tying nooses as jokes about suicide or overwork that were misinterpreted as racist threats.

I'm not sure if a joke about suicide is much better than a joke about lynching, and not being aware of the possible racist interpretation is tremendously ignorant at best, but it's clearly not as horrendous as an actual, real death threat.

We should strive to leave at least a little room for nuance and context, and making broad statements like "in the US there's no such thing as a noose that's unrelated to race" leaves none.


The funny thing about this offense is it seems that was created by the offended so they could become victims of it. Nooses used to represent suicide or maybe western movie culture. The race thing seems to have been kind of resurrected by social media. Though I'm only an outside observer of American culture so perhaps the noose=suicide is because that's pretty much always been their only use in my country.

Does this picture suggest to you that he's planning to do some black people lynching in the holidays or something else?

https://www.reddit.com/r/TheSimpsons/comments/218bbe/not_tod...


> Nooses used to represent suicide or maybe western movie culture. The race thing seems to have been kind of resurrected by social media.

I'm sorry, but this is just ignorant of American history. Lynchings were part of a reign of terror that whites, mostly in the South, inflicted on Blacks for over a hundred years.

Between 1882 and 1968 over 3000 black men were lynched by mobs. Families would go and have picnics, bringing their kids so they could watch the lynchings. They would sometimes then carve up the bodies for people to take home a souvenirs, and many of the hanging bodies of the lynched men were photographed and turned into postcards that were sold all over the South. The postcards were usually inscribed with racist text or poems, and people used to send them just as regular postcards -- photos of men hanging on the back of a casual letter. So many were being sent that the postmaster eventually had to ban them being sent through the mail, though they were still produced and sold.

Lynchings of Black men were absolutely a huge part of the American consciousness. They were one of the main ways that the South kept African Americans living in terror, and a major cause of Martin Luther King Jr's movement and the ensuing civil rights era. Songs like "Strange Fruit" were sung in protest of them.

The last black man lynched in Texas was in 1942. The last black man lynched in the US was in 1981. And the noose itself continued to be used as a symbol of terror, just like the burning cross.


The noose continues to be used as a symbol of terror:

https://www.espn.com/racing/nascar/story/_/id/29345568/nasca...

It's disappointing how explicitly and consistently HN responds to discussions of slightly-subtle racism with a very explicit not-at-all-subtly-racist pretension that it doesn't exist. "It doesn't bother me therefore it shouldn't bother you" and "You should look at the context", as if being black isn't a context.


What an odd example to give. The symbolism was hyped up by the media in recent times, consistent with this noose=racism idea being modern. Also, it wasn't an actual symbol of terror because it turned out to be an innocent door pull rope.

Funny how you replied to that comment, and not my comment above it, which made it absolutely clear that the noose being a symbol of racist lynching is absolutely not modern. It was the reality for millions of black people living in the South for over a hundred years, where there were decades with an average of one lynching every four days.

And yes, it was a symbol as well as a reality. Here is a noose carried by a Klansman to threaten Black people and keep them from voting in 1939 [1]. Here is a mock lynching at the University of Mississippi in 1962, to scare off the university's first Black student [2]. Black men at work would find nooses at their stations [3]. Nooses were mailed to NAACP Secretary, and in 1956 a noose was hung in a schoolyard tree during a battle over desegregation [4].

You said yourself you're an "outside observer of American culture." Well, this is a history lesson. The noose has been an extremely potent symbol of terror for over a hundred years.

1. https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/masked-ku-klux-klan...

2. https://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/200623111206-noose-do...

3. https://www.adl.org/media/10204/download

4. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-shuler-noose-hat...


I didn't know all that. But it looks like it changed from a symbol of terror to a symbol of suicide in the subsequent decades. Resurrecting its old meaning still seems to be a modern invention created as a reason to be offended by dredging up the past.

"the crowd had put tires over the alleged thief and set him on fire".

A single person brave enough to think against crowds could have STOPped this atrocity from happening.

Reminds me of how Mahatma Gandhi was attacked in South Africa by a group of predominantly white-males, was literally being beaten to death, when just one white-female STOPped this atrocity from happening (source: Gandhi the Man - https://www.amazon.com/Gandhi-Man-Changed-Himself-Change/dp/...).

Most of us are too afraid to stop atrocities (Ex: Recently Muslims getting killed in Delhi while Modi was adulating Trump). But a few who do could may help save humanity.


No, not necessarily. A single person can sometimes make a difference but in real life such people are frequently just pushed aside. It is more a matter of luck than morality about where they happen to be in the crowd, whether they can make themselves heard at a critical moment and so on.

I mean sure, if you see an injustice taking place in front of you, you should certainly attempt to intervene. But there is absolutely not guarantee your intervention will be effective.


When the mob can literally set you on fire, then you should be worried about the mob, but, crucially, the mob on social media can't actually hurt you; they can only convince other people to hurt you. It's those other people, the people who hold positions of responsibility and authority -- your boss, your dean, anybody with the power to hire or fire you -- who are really responsible here. The shame of cancel culture is entirely theirs.


No. 10,000 voices braying your name as an evil-doer itself does harm. This isn't a kid being told on a playground that "words will never hurt you," that's always been a lie.

Here is a case [1] of a man being falsely doxxed for the assault on two kids on a bike path last summer. The voices calling for him to be brought to justice, calling him a racist, etc, numbered in the tens of thousands. The retractions from people who realized they had made a mistake for calling for the blood of the wrong person numbered in the tens.

Beyond the psychological damage this may have caused, will this man ever feel safe submitting a resume for a job again? When he does so, does he need to attach a note saying "When you Google my name, all those mentions of me being a racist are false." If he does that, does he already subconsciously look distasteful in the recruiter's eyes?

1. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/what-its-like-to-get...


I'm not so sure proof by counterexample is useful here. My point is that in most cases the people screaming at you seem like they're doing harm, but they can't actually do harm until somebody in a position of power in your life listens to them. [0]

I think you can mostly forgive the cowardly behavior of these authority figures up to about a year or so ago on the grounds that the social media mob sure feels like a real mob that can literally put tires around you and set you on fire. But we know now that that's a mistake. They can't do that. And so people in positions of power need to understand that in most cases they can actually just ignore the mob and nothing happens.

Every institution should have a "social media mob" procedure (i.e. what to do when a member of the organization becomes a target). If you plan to handle this in an ad hoc way, then you'll almost certainly make mistakes (because the ad hoc approach usually boils down to, "Ahhhhh! this feels bad! We have to do something! Quick, get rid of the person!") People should be thinking about how they'll handle it when it happens to one of their employees or members.

[0] I think I'd want to clarify that I actually agree that the braying mob does inflict its own kind of harm; it's merely that it's a harm I'd be willing to endure as a consequence of putting my ideas out there on a platform like Twitter, whereas nobody would be willing to endure getting kicked out of college or fired from their job just to have an argument on the internet. For example, my comment above is getting downvoted to hell. Feels bad! But it's several orders of magnitude removed from losing your job.


Reputational damage is real damage, unless you are arguing that reputation isn't a thing which is patently false.

Careers and lives are made and lost on the back of reputation. Companies can be destroyed by the social media mob.

"Everyone should just ignore them" is not a reasonable argument. Even if there were no actual consequences, fear of consequences or fear of others' fear of consequences... is enough. It's a coordination problem.


I think you're conflating 'getting targeted by a huge social media crowd on a false basis' with 'getting your own opinions trashed by a huge social media crowd.'

The bicyclist in the example wasn't trying to persuade anyone on Twitter of anything. It was the public authority figures who misdirected the crowd's attention to him by releasing inaccurate information about when a (real) crime had occurred.


Yeah, that's fair. Sometimes the mob comes for something you said on the internet. And sometimes they come for you for something you did in a viral video. Two separate issues that I don't intend to confuse. (But oftentimes the end result and the solutions are similar.)


And what drives these decision makers to act so shamefully is the reputational economy. Yes, sometimes a boycott will damage the bottom line, but most often it is the damage to one's status within the wider society that is being protected by the decision to fire someone. If you personally want to avoid this, reduce your dependence on reputation.


Reputation is also often the cause for corporations venturing into "anti-racism," and censorship territory.

When the telecoms were buying up media companies and film/tv studios, suddenly all of their most expensive assets (actors & personalities) started falling out due to cancel culture. Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Rosanne Barr, etc., must have driven the execs at AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon completely nuts. The highest paid CEO used to be CBS's, until they also got him on cancel culture. If CBS's most profitable asset, Judge Judy, were a man, she'd already have been cancelled a decade ago. (She's fought with CBS execs over her exorbitant contract for over a decade now.)


I see your point. I'd like to ask you just out of curiosity, what do you think of "cyber bullying?" Is it real? Are participants culpable?


This is a good response. I addressed it a bit in one of my other comments above, but basically, yes, you're right -- I'm wrong to say that the actions of the mob aren't themselves harmful. It's just that it's a different harm that has to be managed differently from the other harm that's incurred when people in positions of authority bow to the mob.

Crucially, if you can find a way to ignore the mob and/or manage the onslaught from an emotional point of view, then you've solved that problem, but if your boss fires you, then it doesn't really matter how well you personally handled it.


It's not that the people who form a twitter mob don't think or "let twitter think for them".

It's that they actively enjoy hurting someone as a mob. They get a kick out of it, and it's not discouraged (as would be actually forming a mob out in the streets be). If anything, it's encouraging, and gives them not just the joy of kicking someone who is down, but also "good person" credits (because the one getting kicked is a bad person, of course).

In other words, people are not mislead "against their better nature": they are just encouraged to embrace their badness.


It's interesting that this comment and its replies use the third person "they" where many other comments in this thread use "we" (or the even more othering and accusatory "Americans").

I agree completely that one of the main drivers of mob behavior is that it feels good. However, I don't pretend to be immune to that dark corner of human psychology.

We are a tribal species. Our evolutionary history is imprinted with the reality that for thousands of years sticking with our tribe meant survival, as did warring with other tribes that wanted our resources. And even within our tribe, shunning has always been an important form of social control.

Now, I'm not committing the naturalist fallacy and saying that this behavior is right or justifiable. But the seeds of mob mentality are within us all and we won't make progress by blaming it all on others without acknowledging that they aren't so different from ourselves.

If you want this to happen less often, you need to learn how some people avoid it and teach that skill to others.


>It's interesting that this comment and its replies use the third person "they" where many other comments in this thread use "we" (or the even more othering and accusatory "Americans").

Well, I for one don't use Twitter or pile on for mob jobs elsewhere. At worst, I can bore someone with my multiple responses and counter-arguments on HN!

>I agree completely that one of the main drivers of mob behavior is that it feels good. However, I don't pretend to be immune to that dark corner of human psychology.

I'm not immune to other dark corners of human psychology, but I'm pretty immune to that. I hate mobs, and I might even argue the opposite way than those who have the upper hand in such a situation, just for balancing things out (a sort of "devil's advocate").

I think because of some spectrum issues, one of my problems is the opposite, being too neutral to bond with my peer group (even if I have one).

So, even though I'm generally leftist, for example, and can defend even Stalin with the best of them, I can also argue for conservative positions just as easily (and at the very least, don't reject the arguments of the other side immediately and impulsively, as many do. I have to analyze them to death, and will happily accept one if it sounds logical to me.


> However, I don't pretend to be immune to that dark corner of human psychology.

I honestly don't think I have that impulse, and I know other people who don't seem to either. It's always disturbing when I see my peers turning into a mob.


Wish there was a double upvote button for this. Far too often we assume ignorance when malice/sadism is a more correct diagnosis. (reversing the common adage of not attributing to malice what is better attributed to ignorance)

For example, many of my friends don't understand why Americans like to watch biased news. Many think that it's not a concious choice from most Americans. The reality is that most Americans know that they can watch C-SPAN to avoid being lied to - they just don't do it because it's so fking boring. Americans want to be lied to, much as Twitter users want to mob and destroy "bad people"...


I was thinking something similar. If a person has the inclination to jump on the bandwagon for any given situation, they are probably actively getting something out of it.

I have a theory that it could have something to do with the haves and the have nots. Whenever some relatively public figure (by default, without critical thinking, is usually labeled as a "have"), slips up in some way, no matter how small, the have nots jump on the opportunity to join a crusade of righteousness where they strike down the goliath for abusing their unfairly acquired power.


It's not necessarily the "have nots" who jump on the bandwagon. Many of these mob inciters are clearly middle class or upper middle class. I've even seen news anchors participate, people who earn several hundreds of thousands a year. In some cases, it may have to do with crab mentality. Wanting to pull someone down who has more than them: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_mentality

However, if you look at the way James Damore was taken down, or that woman who made a stupid joke at the airport, these people weren't particularly rich compared to their peers. I think that had more to do with wanting to silence dissenting voices and kick someone while they're down, never giving them an opportunity to defend themselves or to have an open discussion.


I agree, it's not necessarily the "have nots" in the typical sense of the term, crab mentality is more accurate. It's just about someone who has more of anything than you - money, power, privilege (loaded term these days), status, etc.

>... and it's not discouraged...

There are a lot of people who have been speaking out against "cancel culture", would that not be a form of trying to discourage social media mobs?


Sure, that's in a sense a movement to discourage this.

But my point was that it is still a niche movement, in the sense that when you're acting as part of an internet mob or a cancel mob or any kind of social mob, you don't get much of a backlash for it (even if you're not just a cog, but a prominent part of one).

Whereas if you were being a jerk in some other way, you'd immediately be called on that.


A lot of people who most loudly decry cancel culture are themselves big practitioners of it and are just being hypocrites - I'm referring to celebrity pundits and other public figures, not you.


That depends a lot on the context of who's saying it, which leads back to the same problem of a lack of nuance and understanding.

If you're Donald Trump saying that people decrying the fact that you caused the attempted coup on January 6th is cancel culture, then no, you're not trying to discourage social media mobs. You're selfishly employing the cancel culture trope as a shield against any attack, by employing the logic that if a lot of people are attacking you, it must be a raging cancellation mob.

If you're OP, on the other hand, speaking out in an objective way about an event that you're not associated with, then yeah, you're trying to discourage social media mobs and good on your for that.

At this point, many of the accusations of "cancel culture" are from people who are trying to cancel people criticizing them. The only way out of it is for everybody to really understand the stuff they're talking about and provide well-informed thoughts that don't use buzzwords like "cancel culture."

How we achieve that, I do not know.


> It's that they actively enjoy hurting someone as a mob.

The "mob" analogy is a bad one here. Sending mean tweets and a group beating someone to death in a town square are nowhere near equivalent.


There are so many comments here blaming Twitter while blissfully unaware that HN fuels the exact same online outrage. Almost every day there's a "<company> did bad thing to me" article on the front page and people immediately pick up their pitchforks and join the mob. You cannot fix the problem without acknowledging that we are all part of it.


Crucial distinction:

* Individual identities are less important/influential on HN than twitter

* The community is much smaller on HN than twitter

* The conversation is more nuanced. We have paragraphs vs. 240 characters

* We have voting to squelch really low effort or trolling. The informal guidelines of the community discourage downvoting an otherwise decent post because you don't agree.

---

This all adds up to a very different kind of "mob action".


I don't think those are the important differences.

Reddit has most of that, and a significant amount of subs there are just cesspools of hate.


Points 2 and 4.

HN is like the equivalent of a small, curated, relatively mature subreddit that avoids being discovered by other reddit users.


Accurate, but this is a somewhat imperfect strategy in many contexts. You will probably find this article interesting.

https://snap.stanford.edu/conflict/


100% and in many cases communities like HN are worse than sites like twitter because it has upvotes and downvotes which effectively drowns out and silences marginalized voices. You can't downvote or flag a twitter post preventing others from reading it.

I mention flagging because users here regularly flag opinions they strongly disagree with in mass as a way of removing them from discussions to great effect.

HN culture is arrogant and overly pragmatic which is especially egregious when dealing with nuanced topics. At least on twitter you can find takes from different viewpoints of a topic, not the monoculture hivemind created by social sites with upvotes and downvotes.


What might be a better mechanism to bring the best content forward, which doesn't suffer from this issue? Would you just advocate against downvoting in general, or is there something else you have in mind?


Traditional forums (such as phpBB) where posting "bumps" a thread are better in some regards. "Bumping" a thread at least requires you make more effort than clicking a button, posts inside a thread are unranked, and they encourage more in-depth discussion since threads can be long-lived.

RSS is great once you find interesting content but it doesn't help much in finding new content.

Otherwise... if you browse ranked boards such as HN/Reddit/etc., for topics such as politics (anything without a demonstrable answer, really), its also worth looking at both the stream of new comments, as well as the worst-rated comments. Most often the worst-rated comments are often just dumb spam or someone who makes no logical sense, but if someone tries to make a point and still gets massively downvoted for it (as opposed to just ignored), he may be striking on something.


I was under the impression that twitter replies with more retweets/likes were displayed higher up in the reply list, similar to HN?


These are two really good points. I feel much more innocent attacking a large corporation than I do individuals.

> You cannot fix the problem without acknowledging that we are all part of it.

I think this one is even more important because it's more far-reaching and applicable. It's easy to point fingers but hard to look inside and cleanse the inner vessel.


> Almost every day there's a "<company> did bad thing to me" article on the front page and people immediately pick up their pitchforks and join the mob

It's even worse than that: Frequently there's a "Cool technology blog by company," and people come chime in with their completely unrelated grievance with <company>.


Yes I quit social media a couple of years ago and agree with pretty much everything the author says. Social media environments encourage incendiary discussion because it fuels upvotes and general attention. Most people won't take the time to consider a more valid grey opinion because they've jumped to a conclusion and are busy attacking someone, or because it won't get as much attention. The first thing that came back for me after quitting social media was that "slow thinking" brain that tries to empathize with all sides rather than just call out some "evil" and check out intellectually.


It is a bit like "don't let the truth get in the way of a good story". I have felt the urge to respond with something witty and scathing to a story online, only to realise after a moment's reflection that my response would be irrelevant in several scenarios. The disappointment that follows for wasting a witty response...that takes some resisting.


The amount of comments here on HN that i never post or delete.... That's largely thanks to HN being quite strictly policed.


My struggle is finding something that brings out the wit like a good tweet so I can put it to a more productive purpose. I've written novels worth of tweets because there's just enough good stuff to reply to that it's hard to leave without an alternative.


I found facebook became more valuable to me once I decided I would only post about things I want my friends to know. That is pictures of my kid's new bike, or a video of the baby babbling. Facebook does a very good job of ensuring my close friends and family keep up with the cute little things in life.

I'm still working on getting out of all the groups that waste space. Sadly many useful things have moved to facebook, and while good for facebook (more ads), other forums function better for keeping up with my hobbies - except for the lack of people checking them.


I wish there was a way to turn off "external content", and only view content created by your friends. If my friend has an opinion about something (even if political, or a social issue), and they post it, I'm interested in reading. But I don't care if they are just posting a link to content that some stranger wrote, or a meme that someone else is spreading. It seems like social media has intentionally blurred the lines between "posting your content" vs "spreading someone else's content".


Interesting. I had the opposite experience to this. Even though all I ever wanted to know about was what was happening to my friend's kids, my feed was taken over with political and social justice outrage. Outrage sells.


It matters what everyone clicks like on. So you need to be careful there, and also help others be careful.

There is way too much political outrage for sure. You just have to wade through it. Hopefully you can join me in spreading the facebook is about family message and get others to stop posting politics. (this is hard, it is so tempting to bait your political friends)


> It matters what everyone clicks like on. So you need to be careful there, and also help others be careful.

The OP's title, "Don't Let Social Media Think for You," applies in this context too. Now you can't even click "Like" without being careful -- to be fair I avoid searching political topics and other sports teams on Google unless I'm incognito.

I feel like we're increasingly trapped in a box by these algorithms and the need to keep them appeased.


I'm on linked-in for obvious reasons but i largely ignore the posts. I don't get how so many people are political on a site largely concerning itself with employment.

Other than that, reddit was the last piece of social media that i quit last year. I consider it more of a social media service than an a forum for discussion.


I enjoy LinkedIn for keeping up with old colleagues. But -- and I hate to be too sour on people who are earnestly excited about sharing their career progress -- everyone seems to announce every minor career move on LinkedIn in posts that read like a Grammy acceptance speech.


LinkedIn is chock full of people with bullshit professional titles posting nonsense. Half the time I wonder if they're bots.


They may not be but social media make people act like bots. Humans just optimize for whatever reward they are after (likes, followers...)


> I don't get how so many people are political on a site largely concerning itself with employment.

Because employment, like almost everything else in life, is political[0].

[0] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politics (see definition 5 a, especially)


I recently deleted a lot of social media accounts. My concerns are any accounts I created for important things using social media accounts, and losing track of what behavior is publicly acceptable in the ever changing Overton window. I feel like the benefits to productivity and mental health will exceed those concerns greatly though.


>> "losing track of what behavior is publicly acceptable in the ever changing Overton window."

A good skill to cultivate for this worry is listening without interrupting or judging when you get feedback. Often what someone who feels hurt wants, regardless of the merit of that hurt, is to feel heard. Listening is timeless.

"I don't fully understand, but I hear you."

Sometimes the best you can do is get someone to move you out of their enemy bucket, but that's often enough. I'm often on the other side of that because there are parts of me that people don't get, but often feel qualified to speak on. The things they say aren't what hurt. It's the often aggressive refusal to accept the limits of their knowledge and experience that hurts. Hubris is the timeless enemy of listening.

Real-world example: there was a now-closed Mastodon instance where it came out that the admin did a long, rambly thread where she confidently explained AMAB nonbinary people are just trans women who are too cowardly to transition. There's an interesting discussion to be had on how to define "woman" and where people draw the line on identifying as nonbinary vs woman vs nonbinary woman, but it doesn't start with a thread like that.


Unfortunately, in terms of staying in the Overton window, that advice is useless. You give good advice at how not to annoy one particular person, but the entire problem is that when speaking in public, everyone gets a crack at accusing you. It doesn't even have to be based on truth; they can accuse based on misunderstandings. They can accuse based on deliberate misunderstandings, because they have other reasons to take you down, or just simply see a chance to be a hero at your expense. As weezin also shares in a sibling post, you can be attacked for not doing something. It doesn't matter how kind you are to one person, you can't do that for hundreds at a time, let alone to the millions that a wrong tweet can reach.

In modern parlance, your post amounts to victim blaming. You can't simultaneously engage with thousands of people in any manner that all of those thousands will find acceptable. That's always been true; the change is the belief in a large number of powerful subcultures that they have a right to be engaged with in manners they find acceptable, by people they've never heard of, in interactions they aren't really a part of except that they happened to be within broadcast range, in the worst cases that they possibly even actively sought out precisely because it would give them something to be angry about. (I'm not accusing everybody of doing that. I think it's rare, most people have better things to do with their time. But there only has to be a few to be a problem.) In the long term, this is an impossible standard.


Thank you for sharing, I think what I'm also worried about is lack of sharing, for example the black squares on instagram. I was called out for not posting one (I had 1 picture on IG from 3 years ago). Although I imagine that wouldn't have happened had I deleted IG prior. I just can see "I don't fully understand" when asked about something will become willful ignorance to people that deem the context unavoidable.


I think I'll have to take my own advice and say that, within the limits of my experience hanging out with lots of other marginalized people, this isn't something I see. It mostly seems to come from Well-Intentioned Allies™ outside the worlds I inhabit, and the people who aggro at folks who don't make the gesture are a subset of that.

What I do for gestures aimed at marginalizations I don't share is listen to the people they're aimed at, but that can be hard if you aren't in a community where they exist in sufficient numbers and are comfortable sharing for a broad cross-section of opinions. I didn't even know any other out and vocal queer people until I started hanging out with furries, and even they have trouble making space for people of color to be out and vocal.

I don't have a good solution to finding that cross-section, so I can see how getting off social media entirely is the safest path.


> "losing track of what behavior is publicly acceptable in the ever changing Overton window"

The largest benefit of abandoning social media is probably the realization that the "very online" type don't actually dictate social mores, and can (and should) be largely ignored. That feeling that the Twitter mob can tell you what is acceptable is "[letting] social media think for you", and is exactly the problem.


This is it. People who are “very online” are a small percentage of the population — one that is almost the polar opposite of people in meatspace. They tend to be a lot more isolated from society and radicalized by the echo chamber they exist in.

Those with strong offline relationships tend not to have time to participate in these communities enough to influence them.

I find the media is particularly egregious in giving these voices an outsized level of influence because journalists are lazy and source stories on Twitter and try to manufacture drama and page views. But this media is consumed by “less online” people which contributes to the view that those opinions are more prevalent than they really are.


On the flip side, all with nuanced, grey opinions will be left with no motivation to act and the fanatic, opinionated people will act.

In a war if the leader has to select an army of thinkers & intellectuals versus that of fanatics & fundamentalists, which one will he choose?


Quite true. It's also the case that some situations demand a timely response, eg when a violation of some fundamental principle is occurring and ought to be interrupted. Intellectualizing everything can become an excuse for passivity. To be clear, if one is uncertain about what's going on it's generally better to hold back, but there are circumstances where someone does comprehend an issue clearly and simply wants to shirk an unpleasant engagement with it.


> more valid grey opinion

What makes the "grey" opinion "more valid"?


It may not be. In fact, I'd suggest discussing the idea of validity in relation to opinions is probably fraught with peril itself. That said, any opinion which is more close to the unbridled truth is generally more structurally sound (and maybe that's a good hallmark for "validity") than opinions which are more sensationalized.

"Grey opinions" are essentially the opposite of sensationalized. I'm not the original commenter, but if I read them correctly, I believe they mean that the least sensational and most deliberate opinions are more likely to fully account for the truth of the matter (and hence be "more" valid) than those opinions which sensationalize.


I would assume the author of that comment was using "grey" to describe an opinion that is more nuanced and carefully considered. A black/white opinion would be hyperbolic or simply expressed to provoke reaction.

So if that's what a grey opinion is... then yeah. That's more valid. Especially if you value conversations aimed at exploring some reality rather than performative shouting matches.


because the person you're replying to agrees with that opinion at the exclusion of all others


After reading the quote at the beginning, the article didn't go the way I thought it would.

I end up seeing a lot more shades of gray because of my experience on Twitter. If you ever ask yourself "how could someone possibly believe...", that someone is on Twitter and probably wants to tell you why.

I generally operate under the stance of "the platform is neutral, it's what we make of it that matters". I'm not entirely sure that's true - I am currently on a Twitter hiatus to reset some things mentally - but it's true to an extent.

Why are you on the site? Do you want the sensationalism, the absolutism, the drama? Or do you want to hear thoughtful discussion from a range of interesting voices?

This post articulates Twitter's pitfalls, but I'm not sure they're inherent or unavoidable.


Personally, I still believe the platform is neutral, and what we make of it matters. But if we make mostly bad things out of it, modifying the platform (or, if the platform's owners will not modify it, choosing voluntarily to leave it) may be a sensible reaction.

Leaf-fall and dead trees on the ground are neutral, but if a forest fire is rampaging a dozen miles away, you cut a firebreak through that stuff instead of taking a laissez-faire approach and letting it be fuel to carry the fire to the nearest populated town. And if you live in that town and you notice the local firefighters don't much care about firebreaks (or cannot successfully cut them given the size and frequency of fires), maybe it's time to pack up and move.


> I generally operate under the stance of "the platform is neutral, it's what we make of it that matters". I'm not entirely sure that's true

I left the platform when I found that neutrality not to be true. I could tolerate the insanity from other users by simply not following them. But when Twitter itself started to censor direct messages due to links in them to an article they did not approve of, I made of it an exit.

I will gladly participate in a neutral forum that includes some of the wonderful voices I used to follow on Twitter. I really hope that one or more emerges that are driven by protocols rather than proprietary platforms.


> These pluralities are unable to exist on social media

I broadly agree with the author, but I have a small nit regarding the above sentence. Pluralities definitely are able to exist on social media, it's just that it is far easier to get swept up in sensationalism, outrage and gossip than it is to find and continue seeing sensible and well-thought posts. The initial days of social media enabled the former, but got drowned out when mass popularity was reached. Think early days Twitter and Quora.

I say this as a person who has no social media accounts, but uses twitter intermittently without an account. It is possible to find nice things on the internet using a pull-based model, i.e. when you actively search for (not just passively follow!) the good stuff and actively block out all the bad stuff. Problem is that SM companies make it increasingly difficult to do this, plus trusting your reading list to the "recommended" and "trending now" sections of a social media feed causes issues. But knowing for what to search and how yields good results which you would not be able to find if you have a blanket ban on anything social-related.


I think curation (of said pluralities) would be possible on social media (like it's possible for example on Wikipedia), but the interactions are effectively owned (controlled) by the media owner, and they don't necessarily want the participants to have that power.


This gets to my biggest issue with social media: the primacy of the collective opinion.

As the article states, nuance has no place, nor does the idea that we should evaluate something based on its intrinsic qualities. Instead, the most important thing about everything is what We think about it in this instant. And that is highly mutable: We will change that whenever we wish, and you need to keep up.

The very notion that something can be evaluated based on intrinsic qualities (such as a person's character, a thing's aesthetics, the efficacy of a policy) is devalued because they do not serve the ultimate goal of a collective opinion. Science is a meme/religion we trot out to justify our already-formed beliefs.

The reason this is such a problem is that you cannot develop any sort of taste if you are constantly out-sourcing it to a constantly-shifting collective opinion. And taste is a requisite for skill.


Interesting comment, I might have thought it was the other way around.

That's the impression I get. The opinions are certainly originally formed from some sort of objective-ish basis, but then it seems to be more important to propagate the meme than it is for others to individually assess the subject or the validity of the original judgment.

Similar dynamics happen among VC investors ("no one else is investing, it can't be that good"). My issue is that end up people taking the meme propagation as ground truth.


I agree with the sentiments about mob rule on social media being extremely negative.

The thing that always amuses me about any sites with ratings is that most people (the site owners, the reviewees, the reviewers) often assume that everyone has the same barometer for 1-5 stars. That's very likely not the case.

Take Goodreads as an example. My Personal barometer is

* 5 star = I would re-read this multiples because it was so interesting/engaging/life changing.

* 4 star = I really liked this book. I probably wouldn't re-read it but it was memorable.

* 3 star = Pretty good book.

* 2 star = Book had some flaws or it didn't appeal to me for specific reasons. I didn't like it.

* 1 star = I did not like this book at all, and I would tell people not to read it.

I think there are probably a lot of people that disagree with my barometer :) Maybe their 5 star is anything "pretty good" or above, and their 1 star is "this author should be banned from authorship, that's how much I disliked this book."

Curious to see what other folks' barometers are.


I imagine many people use:

5 stars - I liked it

1 star. - I didn't like it

In fact, I imagine many people do this.


Reminds me of the theory that reasoning is a mechanism for persuasion and social cohesion, not truth discovery.

The twitter mob isn't trying to anneal to some maximally accurate Goodreads rating of the book. It's "trying to do" (in the anthropogenic agency sense, like how evolution "wants") something else. Something more social and tribal in nature. But the system starts to go highly nonlinear once the crowd gets bigger than some size, and when the crowd is anonymous/pseudonymous handles, not members of your Dunbar's-number-sized-tribe, where reacting hyperbolically has real social consequences.

https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/arts/people-argue-just-to...


Social media is great for finding people with similar interests. I like to cook a certain type of food, and there is a community there of people who share ideas and the dishes they have made. I like it. It's great.

If 'hate' is your 'interest', then you can find lots of people with similar hate online.


I used to approach social media this way but lately it's become miserable. Politics has seeped into every corner, including real life, and everyone seems radicalized to one extreme or another. For example, I like art, most artists are leftists, same thing with writing and writers, and a few other areas. My views do not align to any particular side. Now years ago, this wouldn't have been a problem, most people did not have a problem being friends with people of different views. But now, if I want to participate in any community I have to bite my tongue. I see people getting bullied and ostracized for the most minor stuff. There's a mob waiting around every corner. I have to keep any politics completely out of any accounts (instead I know have one for just politics, which probably makes it sound obsessed, but what else is there to do). In some, like writing, I've stopped participating. Meanwhile the communities just get more and more toxic and political and it sucks all the fun away to even consume them.


Just as important is to not let the mainstream media do your thinking for you either.


Ironically, often people who make that claim let highly politicized, biased, and often downright dishonest rags make their decisions for them instead.


> After a cursory glance, and getting through the heated bluster that often clogs up any twitter debate, I had a general understanding of the situation.

I'm not sure if this was layered meta-commentary or a lack self-awareness. Either way, I chuckled


"Within five minutes of this decision I became distracted by my phone and started scrolling through twitter. One of the trending topics was "Lauren Hough, Goodreads" and since I was determined to procrastinate on my literary endeavours for as long as possible (what's another five minutes on a five year record?), I decided to have a look. "

It sounds like Hough knows how to whip up some social media outrage to generate free press. The author of this piece would never have heard about Hough or her book were it not for a little incendiary language lighting a giant signal fire of hate on the endless pile of fuel that is twitter. The author of this post literally let social media select a book for him/her to read. If you go on to read Hough's book because of this post on HN, you can join the club!

It does make you wonder how many awesome books will go completely ignored over the next decade because their authors didn't know how or weren't willing to ride the social media hate wave.


Live by the sword die by the sword. The author in question wanted to share and cash in on her story by selling it to the masses, when someone among the masses reacted with very mild criticism to her work she antagonized them publicly and the masses didn't like that. Oh well, be nice online if you want to harvest the denizens of the internet to make a living.


Well, there's an old saying: "there's no such thing a bad publicity". Every time you enrage one group on Twitter, you potentially engage another.


I feel like the described events as depicted lack nuance, which is ironic because the essay itself describes nuance. It misses, for example, that Lauren didn't react this way to one Goodreads reviewer, but several, and didn't remove the reviewers' names when blasting people to her many many thousands of followers.

I totally and entirely agree that Twitter has too much of a mob mentality from a lack of nuance but I am very against depicting this lack of nuance with a lack of nuance. The backlash against Lauren was utterly ridiculous and indefensible but that is not a reason to sensationalize and flatten facts.


"Don't let social media think for you" I say, as I open the hnews comments section to check what hnews people think before I read the article


I'm active in many writing communities. There is a culture, among writers, to "Never respond to reviews." Those who dare break that taboo are asking for trouble, in the form of twitter mobs and online bullying.

Writing is a cut-throat, competitive industry. All of the arts are, once you get beyond hobbyist level and into the realm of professionals.

I would not be shocked if a lot of that abuse came from other writers.


We have a choice to make about the work we want to contribute to. Our hands, our minds. What world do you want to live in? Is your work contributing to that in a meaningful way, such that when you're gone those that come after can continue the work because it's worth doing? We only have so much time on this earth.


Thank you for posting this.


This subject was written about as well by the esteemed Jon Ronson, in "So you've been publicly shamed". Reading it today may sound quaint, but it's also interesting to know that he also wrote about Alex Jones several years before 2016.


I'm always perplexed at how engineers fall into these tribal traps. People that deal with complex nuance all day fully denouncing any idea from specific people.

E.g. I've even seen things like "if you follow Uncle Bob Martin I'm unfollowing you".


It's because tribalism exists on a different domain than logic and intelligence. It occupies the same region of your brain and satiates the same primordial needs that organized religion once did. We used to circle around our priests and their sacred idols for our sense of unity, now we circle around our politicians and made up genders.


I don't think specifying "made up genders" makes much sense. The progressives and trans people I know, to the extent that they think tribally, do so with respect to ideology like anyone else.


Before I switched to computer science, I studied philosophy, and I encountered lots of people who seemed to think that philosophers had some kind of special relationship to critical thinking. That makes sense in a way, but I also imagine that adherents to just about any discipline, whether it's mathematics or history or journalism, tell themselves a story like this.


The hubris on hackernews is appalling. Being an "engineer" doesn't make you immune to what affects all human beings.


The most powerful propaganda are the ideas that the people believe are their own.


Regardless of the whole Twitter thing. What's wrong with a 4-star rating? It's not a math exam where there are right and wrong answers and you can get 100% = 5stars with the right knowledge. It is always a subjective impression and even the best book ever will not get only 5 stars.

>From Lauren's perspective, what on earth could she possibly have done to garner a 5 star review? Been abused more?

Once again it is not an exam, there is no sure way to 100%, especially not 100% with 100% of the reviewers. Doesn't this show a similar mentality to the Twitter mob?


> These pluralities are unable to exist on social media. There must always be objective truth, there must always be a side that wins, a side that loses [...]

But neither side "wins". They both just shout louder and louder in their own side's echo chamber, with only a tiny porthole into the other's echo chamber, until it finally blows over.

Getting bent out of shape on twitter is like screaming obscenities into a pillow, but there's a public record of what you screamed.


One of the great social advantages is the outsourcing of thinking; knowing everything about everything is just not possible.

There have always been distortions due to this, particularly in small insular communities. Social media seems to amplify the distortions though; you can end up with a large insular community. After all, if dozens of people all agree with X and nobody disagrees with X, how can it be wrong?


It's such an unpleasant experience speaking to someone who has bought into some form of group-think on a topic. One of my college friends, otherwise an extremely bright guy would frustrate me immensely whenever any political topic came up.

Not because we disagreed, but rather because I felt I was talking to John Oliver or whatever other pundit he recently listened to on a topic. Same points. Same statements. Same words.

Discussing the root of his propositions were impossible, because they weren't his. He didn't think about them, someone else did.


"A month ago I decided to try and get out of the reading slump I have been in - slump is a kind description for what has been a half-decade period of me not picking up a book."

And he's writing about book reviews?



This discussion feels very meta. In the sense that Twitter is the "bad" person, and we are the actors contributing our individual outrage induced take.

Why are we so compelled to participate?



Bennie Noakes sits in front of a set tuned to SCANALYZER orbiting on Triptine and saying over and over, "Christ what an imagination I've got!"


Not letting social media think for you applies equally well to HN comment sections.


It's not just social media.

Media in general has a heavy bias on negative reporting , that's because humans are wired to have huge spikes in attention when there is a hint of bad news or character assassination.

Back in the days it used to be monodirectional stream: from the Newspapers, Radios, TV towards the population. The internet and social media just amped up this phenomenon globally and the person which is the subject of the character assasination du jour has the immediate feedback of millions of people piling in and commenting aganist them.

There is no defense mechanism really. The only way is trying to make money having the least amount of interactions as possible and in a position which is not under the spotlight.

New York City, Wall Street and the financial sector will benefit from this, also sports betting comes to mind and every domain where the arena is already built and you enter it knowing that it's a zero sum game. Other winners will be a particular demographic which historically always needs to be on the lookout for social unrest and people ganging up against them. They have the most sensitive internal alarms and have timely retreated to finance


Yes, the news media is a slower and more centralized outrage machine. The upside of social media is that it's harder to manufacture consent (h/t Noam Chomsky) as it consists of millions of voices. Though that's threatened by the coordinated censorship of big tech, as we saw with the lab leak hypotheses and people being silenced on twitter, facebook and youtube for challenging the approved narrative on that. It finally broke though, but it took over a year! Although without social media, maybe that process would have taken decades?


Idk - I think manufacturing consent may be easier rather than harder these days. The fact that it's now realistic to accuse people of being a bot (GPT-3) means that elites could just deploy large numbers of language models fine tuned and prompted correctly to AstroTurf and manufactur consent "from the ground up".


It's not even hypothetical; governments can and do fund astroturfers. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27368214


If you click on toxic content, algorithm is going to feed it to you. Twitter is perfectly fine if you unfollow and block toxic influencers. There is propably even keyword based filtering.

For news you can watch international news stations from India. Very realistic and refreshing.


> Twitter is perfectly fine if you unfollow and block toxic influencers.

Not my experience tbh. I quit Twitter after having tried to follow only accounts that interested me.

But once Twitter starts to be unable to create a sufficiently dense "infinite feed", its algorithm starts to artificially fill your feed and shows you the likes and answers (and not only tweets & RTs) of the people you follow or the hottest tweets of people followed by people you follow.

I was totally unable to protect myself from the "Twitter's today shitstorm". So I quit.


I use Tweak New Twitter, which removes 'trending', reblogs, etc. from my feed.

https://github.com/insin/tweak-new-twitter/


> For news you can watch international news stations from India. Very realistic and refreshing.

Did you mean "if you are in India you can watch international news channels to get a better perspective"? If yes, I would agree with you.


No, I am in Europe and watch indian news about US politics etc.


but what's the point of watching news? why bother?


The point is to let you know a bit about the reality you share with others. The stuff on the news is often things that are affecting others directly (do you want to avoid the area of town with unmasked protesters?) and indirectly (Is your neighbor going to increase racism towards Asian Americans in part because of folks linking a virus to a country?).

News doesn't always have the most important things to you, but it clues you in on the world.


It's poor deal, it's not worth.

Just because I may learn some small things that probably does not affect me directly and additionally receive some news that make my mood worse due to hearing some yet another negative news about bad stuff / politics / yada yada, what's the point?

80% of the news I read is HN and some programming related websites and whenever I jump into "mainstream" media, then I feel like I'm reading some shit - click baits, tragedies, controversial stuff, drama seeking, celebrities

it's irrelevant for me


Not all news is made equal, though maybe you implied this by using the term mainstream.

There's a profound difference in what you get out of a curated editorial in the Economist and the talking heads on Fox News.

I'd argue the former has tremendous value and isn't presented in a way that pokes at our anxieties.


Indeed. The other problem is that the news is often filled with misleading narratives that lead people to be less informed than before, and that it creates a huge opportunity cost in terms of attention. When you cut out the news you start to notice a lot of things around you that you were glossing over before.


Corporate media is also pretty much an extension of corporate public relation firms a lot of the time. For instance I turned on broadcast TV for one minute this morning only to find a Amazon sponsored segment parading as a news piece promoting a feel good story about how Amazon was good for small businesses. People don't trust corporate media for good reason but many viewers probably lack training in media literacy that would be helpful for both consumers of social media and traditional media outlets. Vetting the veracity of independent news outlets is even more challenging at times and a failure to do so can result in suppression of good information and the propogation of disinformation.


How do you get informed on things happening on the other side of the world? (please don’t say Twitter!)


I think people should spend a lot more time considering what they're trying to get informed about and for what purpose. Reading books (particularly older books), talking to a wide variety of people, looking at primary sources, paying attention to what's around you in your environment - all of those is going to put you in a much better position than being a media junkie.

For instance, if you want to be an informed voter, then spending a few minutes flipping through the Vote411 pamphlet put out by The League of Women Voters is going to put you ahead of the vast majority of people who absorb political news 24/7. It's also often the only information you'll find on many local races.

Often people will tell you that they're watching the news to be an informed voter, except they're mostly watching things that align with the decisions they've already made. I know many people who decided years ago how they feel about a national candidate, spend hours every week for years watching news that just reinforces that, and then zero knowledge about any of the candidates in local races where there vote actually has a much greater impact. That's not being an informed voter, that's feeding a bad habit.

Likewise with international news - what are people actually trying to accomplish? Most of the time it's not being informed, it's following a media narrative and ignoring things as soon as the narrative changes. Do you remember when Darfur was a big topic in the early 2000's? Mali about 9 years ago? Those conflicts are still ongoing, but seem to have been forgotten. How about "Bring Back Our Girls"? Likewise Libya, Syria, and a host of other conflicts that suddenly shift from "very important and everyone needs to be informed about it" to a distant memory.

Again, the way these things are treated isn't about keeping people informed, but feeding media junkie habits. And the nature of this kind of poor reporting has very real consequences - just look at the Iraq War. Ignorance is preferable to disinformation.


Generally:

a) Through friends

b) It's so big that's almost everywhere and you cannot escape it

c) I don't get informed (but may later in time)

Of course it's not perfect approach


a) and b) just mean you’re relying on someone else who watches the news, so the same drawbacks apply…


but all the bad stuff is "outsourced" :)


Most Americans do not realise how deep in their information rabbit hole they are. Denial is not solution. Outside perspective (indian news) improves your mental health and resistance. It is mainstream, but based perspective.


I'm not American, I think the only "purely American" news that I see is probably something about $BIG politics like election outcome, war, blabla.


As a former news junkie, I can confidently state that getting a view of the (rest of the) world by watching the news will give you an extremely skewed view of the world. Just look at how much coverage they give to one event (e.g. the recent Israel-Gaza conflict) vs others with an order of magnitude more casualties to get an idea of the skewness.

An exercise I came up with years ago: On a piece of paper write down the most important issues in the world. If they match the exposure that the typical news media provides, then you've lost the ability to have an independent perspective.


If your goal is to better understand your reality, you would learn more about the world by reading books than by watching the news.


Books don't let you know that genocide is happening at the time, that the bars have been closed yet again, nor that you should probably postpone that trip due to bad weather.

Books might capture the feelings of now: 1984 wasn't making predictions, but illustrated the concerns of the current time. Same for the things in "A Brave new World".

Reading books about the history of cooking isn't going to give you much of a worldview, nor is it going to prepare you for a government restricting your ability to get birth control, abortion, or sterilization surgeries. Books also aren't worth much if you don't reflect on them - but once you do reflect, they aren't realistically all that much better or worse than other artistic mediums and you don't even have to read the books to get advantages (some visual adaptations are good, and there are always audiobooks too).

It isn't to say that you cannot learn from them, but it isn't the same sort of information.


> The point is to let you know a bit about the reality you share with others.

Best case scenario is that you are shown a select few fragments of reality, strategically arranged. Worst case scenario is the fragments themselves are questionable.

I don't feel like someone is trying to inform me when I watch the news. I feel like someone is trying to manipulate me.


> Best case scenario is that you are shown a select few fragments of reality, strategically arranged. Worst case scenario is the fragments themselves are questionable.

1) Things happen around the world that you can't observe.

2) People need to participate in democracy for democracy to work.

3) Things that happen elsewhere might affect things locally through latter order effects.

Can we agree on those assumptions?

If so, you may need to keep at least somewhat up to date on current events. How would you do so without news?

Further; painting all "news" with the same brush is getting real old. It's not a single organism.


> Can we agree on those assumptions?

Kind of

1 - Sure. But the idea that your news of choice gives you a representative, unbiased picture of that is laughable.

2 - I disagree. Casting ballots to potentially swap heads of governments - who are largely symbolic and functionally impotent - barely qualifies as participating at all. Power in modern democracies spread very thin, and most of it is not elected.

3 - Sure, I suppose.



Social media interactions are like daily Black Swan events to most people. The scale of the interactions is just not intuitive enough for them to process in a healthy way.

I’m optimistic that eventually, society can learn to deal with it, however.


It's bizarre to use an author who demands 5/5 star reviews and insults personally people who gave her 4/5 star reviews in a take about nuance criticizing the people who criticized her for doing that.

Blogs are also social media, this is just additional pile-in. I think this is supposed to be better because it uses too many words, tries to make the personality flaws that it ascribes to reviewers universal, and has a bunch of emotionally performative talk about moved to tears and having your heart broken mixed with talk about trauma.

edit: maybe the blog author should spend the time to listen to the life stories of the people who review books. If there were a more traumatic story from one or more of them, expressed well, would they win the sympathy contest?


I believe the article's author is not saying that the author was in the right; quite the contrary. Rather, the point is that the author can be in the wrong, and yet one can still sympathize with her situation and difficulty in being dispassionate about having her work rated. Yet, the mechanisms of social media (ranking, instant comments, etc.) push everything in the opposite direction of reflection and sympathy.


Aggravatingly, in a lot of circumstances, 5/5 means "acceptable" and anything less is varying degrees of "unacceptable". That's not good, but it's very real. Uber drivers who fall below 4.6 can lose business, so a 4 rating can literally cost them money.

Given that they might as well just go to a thumbs-up/thumbs-down system. There are a number of situations where I'd love to give somebody 4 stars as a way of saying "You did good but I'd prefer X", but I don't want that to be a black mark.

I make the same mistake some times. If all other things are equal on a product I'll pick the 4.8 star one over the 4.6 star one, even though I know perfectly well that these are worse than useless.

That's no excuse for an author to be a dick about it, but it's a really stupid bind they're caught in.


Rating systems online are generally skewed. Look at ebay or other marketplaces. Anything less than 95.5% favorable is treated as a problem or worse[1][2]. Look at restaurant ratings - 4 stars is not good. As best I can tell, there are really only two "true" ratings: good or bad. Part of the problem is that anytime a reviewer has a bad experience and comes away unsatisfied, they tend to go give a 1-star rating to "punish" the seller. The 5-star reviews typically only come from a. someone who had a memorably good experience and is very motivated to say so or b. fake. Someone who gets an "ordinary" experience in the transaction has little or no motivation to rate, so there's nothing in the middle.

A star rating system I know of that makes sense and is relatively uncontroversial is the independent groups like AAA hotel ratings, where the number of stars is more-or-less objective based on the amenities, making them more of a classification than a rating.

1. https://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/ebay/seller.htm

2. https://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/ebay/seller.htm


Same for a lot of colleges! If you don’t have a straight 4.0 you’ve “failed”


I don't understand these posts.

Why must the world at large censor themselves so an author can demand everyone see her work as perfection without hearing any other opinion? Why are the various, discordant voices considered "social media thinking for you", but the demand of absolute acquiescence is not?


I don't believe that's an accurate representation of the point the author of the article was trying to make. I believe that their point was that we should not pile on with mobs, believing that popularity or trends of the moment are correct (letting social media think for you) and instead perform our own analysis of available information or better yet avoid contentious situations altogether.

Their point wasn't really about the author or the book, or the situation, it was a meta-analysis of the fact that many of the later participants in the mud-slinging online were reacting to the furor on social media, rather than to the original situation. If you analyze this more expansively, it's just an observation of the well understood sociological trend of reactionaries and counter-reactionaries.


There's no analysis here. There's no detail whatsoever; those are intentionally omitted, supposedly to protect the readers from being bored. Instead, the blogger offers only opinion with no support at best, and falsehoods presented as truth at worst.

I choose not to let them think for me. I will not disavow social media simply because some blogger expressed their own irrational, negative opinions of it.


Very edgy. But you’re not making any sense.

The article has a clear message about mob mentality which you’re simply choosing to ignore. It’s an opinion piece, it doesn’t need “truths”. You can disagree if you want, but not discredit it.


I am ignoring nothing. It is obvious that the author is stating that social media causes breakdowns into unruly mobs. I disagree with that sentiment. The author and I have differing opinions.

However, the author decided to post a longform article on the topic with no evidence to support their claims, and in some cases, outright lies. I don't believe that claims should go unchallenged, especially when made on such flimsy ground.

Don't allow your biases and reactionary tendencies to force you into the mob mentality you claim to stand against.


I guess you’re not on Twitter much? Mobs are an almost daily occurrence in my feed.

What are the lies? Where is your challenge of them? So far you’ve only tried to directly discredit the author and not offered any counterpoints.


I thought you believed truth and evidence were not necessary when sharing an opinion? What changed your opinion so quickly? Is it only necessary because I disagree with you?

"my biggest gripe with social media. There is no room for nuance, there is no room for grey. Every interaction is based on reaction alone - reflection is rendered moot, because there will always be another scandal that needs attending to."

That is inaccurate description. There are millions of voices with competing perspectives. Perhaps, borne of ones own ignorance, things can be viewed to be dichotomous, but choosing to be ignorant does not justify condemning others.

"These pluralities are unable to exist on social media.

There must always be objective truth, there must always be a side that wins, a side that loses, and there are extra points to whoever gets there first, never mind the consequences. This constant need for triumph is so dangerous and reductive. It removes the requirement for individual critical analysis - it is so easy to get swept up in the herd mentality and feel a rush of adrenaline when you agree with thousands of others online."

This is a description of a subset of possible human communications. This is not an attribute of social media. This certainly doesn't describe the majority of interactions on Twitter, let alone the majority. Yes, sometimes some people behave this way. It's likely that all of us do at times. However, this reductive communication style has always existed.

Blaming the medium for the negative interactions of the few is lazy, tired, and wholly uninteresting to me.


I’ll refrain from commenting on the first point - you already accused me of “bias and reactivity” and now that I asked you to flesh out your thoughts you turn to personal attacks, just like you did with the author. That’s something to reflect on.

It’s not “the negative interactions of the few” when you have thousands upon thousands of people jumping into the latest issue of the day. Usually they’re people from all over the world, without any access to context or more information on whatever is going on, which means there is no room for analytical thought - you watch the events unfold from afar, without interjecting, or you join the mob. See the recent basecamp controversy.

You’re intentionally ignoring the evidence as “not the majority”, “the lazy”, but it’s a fact that this is happening, and happening on platforms like Twitter and Reddit. We didn’t have this on Usenet, forums, news sites or any other previous media tool - it is evidently a product of social media, it’s format and reach today. The existence of this phenomenon was not even in question in the article, the point is how to interpret these events.

Those quotes are not statements of absolute truth, but the author is trying to paint, in broad and colorful swathes for illustration purposes, the mentality that emerges from this phenomenon.


Your very first words to me were an attempt at an insult, so please save the crocodile tears from having your hypocrisy mentioned. I accused you of bias and reactionary tendencies, although I was intending anyone who reacts to the existence of social media this way.

I'll attempt to be clear. I believe your bias is your agreement with the author on this topic. The reactionary tendency to which I referred is the one I believe you and the author share, that social media inherently diminishes discussions and people involved into an unthinking mass. There's no evidence of this, so I assumed it was simply a delusion borne of reaction to seeing something you didn't like. These are clearly unproved assumptions on my part, but you've done nothing to indicate otherwise.

To address the rest of what you said, it's largely false. The phrase "Flame War" originated on usenet and other early message boards. The undesirable human communication styles existed prior to any internet medium and certainly will differ in form medium to medium.

On Twitter, the people who interact with a post are a small fraction of those who see the post who are fraction of the people using the medium. Of those who interact, there are likely to be various opinions. It is quite literally the few. It can still be an easily recognizable phenomenon while being perpetrated by relatively few members of the population.

Yes, the scale of communication between individuals has continued to increase as time progresses. The internet has revolutionized that. That unfortunately does mean that you will come into contact with more individuals who say or do things you dislike. Broadly condemning people as unthinking or other baseless assumptions is not a reasonable response to this phenomenon. It's lazy.


> Blaming the medium for the negative interactions of the few is lazy, tired, and wholly uninteresting to me.

The medium (in this case Twitter) is in fact a part of the problem and there are very specific features that contribute to it. The quote tweet feature is a good example. It fundamentally amplifies and encourages combative exchanges and negativity through its design.

In fact looking at how a platform can prevent or encourage certain kinds of behavior/interactions is super interesting when you dive deep - I don't find it lazy or tired at all.


What you have to say is very interesting. However, it is not the content of the article.


I thought it was relevant but fair enough.

Sorry, I agree with it being relevant. I just meant that it was not what I found uninteresting.



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