The Identity Crisis of Twitter

To a great many, social media is just a part of life now. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter, these websites and apps are practically glued to us due to the ever-increasing ubiquity of smartphones. But each form of social media in certain ways replicates the online communication tools of old, and I find that with Twitter in particular, its strengths and weaknesses come from being essentially a highly modular chatroom. The problem is that, while the scope of this “chatroom” can be large or small, individual users only have so much control once it gets beyond a certain size, which leads to Twitter and its users running into an identity crisis of sorts.

It’s true that if you want an absolutely private experience on Twitter, you can more or less make it happen. Set your account to private, only follow a handful of people, and maybe even communicate primarily through direct messages. You can actually just make it about you and your friends. However, there are a few aspects that limit the Twitter experience once you move past that point and want to utilize the site as most others do, which is to operate in this massive space where you can instantly search for what people are saying about any given topic.

Traditionally, chatrooms were less people-focused and more concept-focused. Even in the earliest days of AOL, you scrolled through a potential list of chats, picked one that matched your interests or desires, and then joined. Even if it was just to ask A/S/L to everyone, there was a sense that you were stepping into a shared, localized space. Web 1.0 had this feeling in general. With Twitter, you are essentially your own chatroom moderator, and it’s up to you to constantly manage who you want to listen to and who you want to interact with. This kind of customization certainly has its merits, as it lets you really control your experience on Twitter to a certain degree, but having to potentially police your own twitter feed constantly is practically a recipe for decision fatigue. A user doesn’t have to care that much, but that can lead to the next problem: if you choose to take a relatively hands-off approach, that means you can’t control the people who are peering inside.

A common story of many a Twitter faux pas is that a user (often a fairly prominent one) treats their very public and well-known account like it’s still a small, localized experience when things have in fact changed. This person might be using in-jokes that appear crass or downright offensive to outsiders, but is considered to be innocuous teasing by their more immediate circle. They might even get called out by their followers for those words and asked to apologize, and those followers might even have a point. Even so, it can feel like there’s a disconnect between what this particular user thinks is their Twitter experience (shooting the breeze with friends) and what the users at large think is the Twitter experience (a public forum where any and every statement hangs in the air for all to see).

Consider two scenarios of a person in real life who says something racist, not expecting it to be an issue, only to be reprimanded by someone listening. In scenario #1, it’s a private setting where a friend is warning this person that what they’re saying is messed up, and they need to watch how they think and use words. In scenario #2, it’s an open space where everybody’s listening and a stranger shouts down the speaker for being so damn racist. Both cases involve someone rightly pointing out racist speech and that it needs correcting, but there’s a fundamentally different experience between someone who says something around those with whom they’re familiar and while surrounded mostly by strangers. The issue with Twitter is that it can seem like the former on the surface, only for a user to discover that it’s been a public square all along. The perception of extremely public vs. relatively private space explodes and collapses in a way that doesn’t happen when you actively search for servers and chatrooms on IRC or the more modern Discord.

I believe that this folding of public and private on Twitter is also what makes harassment on the platform especially insidious. It’s no secret that certain groups (especially the alt-right) have learned to almost weaponize Twitter’s idiosyncratic behavior. They can make a statement, “innocently” @ another user, and sit back and let their followers dog-pile that user. They can search out people who are discussing a topic, and attack total strangers in their replies. Users might want to interact through Twitter as if they’re just talking to their friends and acquainances, but the search function makes it possible to seek out holders of different opinions and try to verbally abuse them. It’s all too easy to find someone you disagree with on Twitter, and to see them as the enemy.

Chatrooms aren’t and weren’t ever peaches and rainbows. They come with their own hosts of problems, from power-abusing moderators to the active nurturing of toxic spaces by users if they should so choose. I used to be part of a chatroom or two where there were some people with gigantic chips on their shoulders—folks who seemed a little too trigger-happy with their hostilities. I remember a time where I talked about my surprise that a couple of anime voice actors were married to each other, only to get shouted at about how I must be one of those shallow folks obsessed with following the frivolous minutiae of celebrities (but of course said in a much less polite way). I thought the guy was being an asshole, but I also went into that chat knowing that this was a possibility, and that I was ready to fight back and call him out on being unnecessarily angry. Not everyone is willing or should be willing to have to fend off trolls and angry mobs, but Twitter’s public/private collapse makes that fight all the more inevitable for anyone discussing a controversial topic.

I’ve been on Twitter for over ten years now, but I’ve come to realize that I’ve reduced my utilization of its chatroom-esque qualities a long time ago. I still do communicate with friends and mutuals to an extent, but a lot of it is me shouting into the wind and seeing what sticks. Much like this blog here, I use it as a place to experiment with an express thoughts and ideas. Analyzing this shift in Twitter behavior, I think it’s largely because a certain degree of distance is necessary. Those who jump onto Twitter with bleeding hearts inevitably attract sharks. But while there were always sharks, even among the islands of Web 1.0 and 2.0, the social media age means being surrounded by potential predators on all sides.

Advertisements

Spirit vs. Letter in Social Media Harassment Policies

Social media platforms have been under fire by critics recently due to the way they’ve let radical groups take advantage of their platforms to attack and discredit others. People on Twitter are harassed, receiving death threats and worse, yet their harassers remain unbanned. Facebook has suffered from the inundation of fake news created by Russian propagandists, as well as racist advertising using their own ad system. A recent article by Sarah Wachter-Boettcher, titled “Facebook treats its ethical failures like software bugs, and that’s why they keep happening,” argues that Facebooks’s approach lacks a true human dimension, and fails to account for the subtle and nuanced ways that people end up using social media. In other words, using a wack-a-mole method to deal with this ignores, unintentionally or otherwise, the underlying issue of people being attacked online.

I concur with this sentiment, but would like to add something. It’s not just that treating problems like racist ad targeting as bugs or glitches is the wrong way to go, but that trying to govern social media platforms with hard and fast rules creates a rigid system that inevitably lends itself to loopholes that can be exploited.

I recently had a few discussions with friends and acquaintances, all programmers and software engineers. In one discussion, I had a small debate with a friend, who argued that laws should not be open to interpretation—what says, goes, ideally. Having “wiggle room” makes things messy. In another, the subject of self-driving cars came up. Among many of the programmers (but not all, mind), there was a shared stance that giving humans more control than self-driving cars would be to open up the efficient and organized traffic of the future to the unpredictable and poor decision-making of the average driver. Additionally, any problems that occur due to the incompleteness of the self-driving AI could be solved after they arise.

I don’t mean to stereotype programmers as all having a certain way of thinking or a certain set of beliefs (you’ll find them on all sides of the political spectrum, for example), but there’s a certain desire for the human-created mechanics of the world to make consistent, logical sense that I find common to programmers—i.e. the main people driving social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter behind the scenes. A faith (or perhaps desire) in these systems, and the idea that they can just increase the granularity of their rules, instead of trying to take a more humanistic direction, leads to holes that can be exploited.

No matter what parameters Twitter puts in for defining harassment, people will always find ways to attack others without “technically” breaking the rules. This, I believe, is the reason so many people appear to be unjustly banned while other accounts that spew hate and encourage online attacks can manage to stay active. One side is likely ignorant of rules X, Y, and Z, while the other deftly skirts them. Intent, something that requires a closer analysis, is left by the wayside.

Krang T. Nelson, a Twitter user named after a certain cartoon warlord from Dimension X, recently tested these limits. In a Vice article, Nelson describes how he decided to troll white supremacists by crafting the most intentionally absurd tweet possible, about “antifa supersoldiers” planning on beheading white parents and small business owners. Not only was it a clearly tongue-in-cheek call-out of alt-right talking points, it was also loaded with buzzwords that white nationalists actively look for. Nelson then discusses how the white nationalist movement understands the ways to take advantage of Twitter’s policies, and that they used this knowledge to get him (temporarily) banned over a facetious remark. Here, we see clear evidence that the groups known for Twitter harassment also know how to exploit its technicalities and parameters for their own ends.

Adhering to the letter and not the spirit of policies and laws is what fuels the abuse of online social platforms. Having actual people at all levels checking to see how Twitter, Facebook, etc. are being used, and relying not on hard and fast rules, is where things need to change. Granted, having “wiggle room” in rules means they can be exploited in a different way, but overly strict interpretations are also clearly not working.

 

Sound the Gong: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for August 2017

Otakon is this month! With guests like the director of Eureka Seven, JAM Project, and more, I’m unbelievably hype for this year’s convention. If you happen to spot me at the con, feel free to say hello.

Thanks to all of my Patreon sponsors!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

I want to talk about Twitter for a bit. In the past, I’ve never really had any of my tweets go wild; the most successful one I had for the longest time was this:

That was almost two years ago. But all through July, I’ve been hitting it out of the park in ways I hardly expected. I was never good at the social media game, so seeing my tweets go viral again and again is hard for me to wrap my head around.

Have I figured something out? Only the future knows…

Anyway, here are monthly post highlights:

 

Gattai Girls 6: The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Jeanne Fránçaix


After three long years, it’s finally the 6th entry in Gattai Girls review series! I look at mecha anime starring female robot pilots.

Pre-Evo Thoughts: Video Games vs. Chess Analogies


Gamers love to say that their favorite game is comparable to chess. But couldn’t we think through the analogy more?

Bootleg Products and the Defiance of Value


Bootleg stuff is often either demonized or written off as harmless, but what effects does it have on a fandom’s ability to grow itself?

Patreon-Sponsored

Aikatsu and the Power of Not Running Jokes into the Ground
The Aikatsu !posts continue! This month, I look at how great the humor is in this series. You might think I’m being paid by the creators or something, but it’s just that my biggest patron is a huge Aikatsu! fan!

Return to Genshiken

Return to Genshiken: Volume 4 – Ogiue Descends

Ogiue’s finally here! Starting this volume, I’ll be using the Japanese books along with the English ones for my re-reads.

Closing

Hopefully the next Gattai Girls post won’t take nearly as long. I’m waffling between… Patlabor and BBK/BRNK. What do you think?

Anyway, see you at Otakon!

Save

Save

Save

Twitter and the Control of Conversation Space

I’m sure that tons of people have commented on the idea of Twitter, what makes it unique, why it has been embraced where other forms of social media have failed. I, however, have not read any of those comments, and so everything I say is my own thought, even if it overlaps immensely with common knowledge.

When Twitter first started getting popular, many others including myself questioned the usefulness of it. We already had IMs, chatrooms, blogs, messageboards, maybe Usenet, and dozens of other ways to communicate with others and do that “online social networking” thing if need be. And when I first got my Twitter account, I did so because I was tired of not being able to read interesting conversations that were happening on it. Inevitably however, I started to participate as well. Not greatly, mind you. I still don’t tweet nearly as much as some of my contemporaries, but it’s more than I expected I would, kind of like how I didn’t expect myself to still be blogging after all this time. There’s a niche Twitter fulfills, and I think I know what it is.

Twitter’s most defining characteristic is likely its 140-character limit, which depending on your language can mean a lot of space (Japanese) or very little (English). This makes it a perfect match for cell phone texting and its usual 160-character limit and is part of why it is used by those who are a little less tech-savvy, but I think the 140-character limit is only a piece of why Twitter has caught on. The real appeal of Twitter in my opinion is that it is easy to control the space of conversation while leaving it open for others to jump in.

With Twitter, you follow who you want to by saying that you will follow them. It is an active choice to see the remarks of others. However, it is not in your control for other people to see your comments unless you purposely make your account private. However, not being the default choice means a lot here. Twitter can be both public and private at the same time, and it is up to the user to determine the boundaries of each. And by doing so, you have a situation where a conversation can begin one-on-one, but then another person can interject and deliver his or her point, and then another, and then another. But to those first two people engaging in that dialogue, it can still exist as a one-on-one conversation. What is being said and the scope of the discussion changes depending on who is reading and who is participating and who wishes to see the participation of others.

This is where the 140-character limit really comes in. It makes everything you say on Twitter bite-sized and easier to digest. While discussions can go on for a while, the point at which a person chooses to step in is in reply to one of those 140-word tweets, as opposed to say, a five-paragraph-long comment. Your words are already broken down into specific chunks, and so another person on Twitter can zero in on that, and while their reply can be in response to everything you’ve said so far, they have chosen to reply to that specific tweet and bring emphasis to it.

So basically, Twitter conversations can exist at multiple sizes simultaneously due to the brevity in encourages and the way the users can determine in their own space the number of participants. It is both a closed discussion and an open one, and yet your choices also do not impact the choices of others for the most part. There is near-total control, but that powerlessness over others is also what allows it to expand. And unlike chatrooms or forums you do not have to opt to ignore the words of another, as it is the default. Twitter is as comfortable as you make it.

Ogiue: The Bond Which Transcends Space and Time

A few days ago while doing my routine “Ogiue” keyword check on Twitter, I noticed that someone had created an Ogiue Bot on Twitter which sends Ogiue catch phrases every so often into the wild.

The creator of the Ogiue Bot also has a Twitter account of his own, and unlike me and my shameful Avatar-based betrayal, he sports an Ogiue icon.

When I saw it, my first reaction was, “Ooh, that’s a nice Ogiue.” My second and more important reaction, however, was, “This looks oddly familiar.” After a bit of memory-jogging and browsing old sites, I realized just how familiar it really was. That Ogiue drawing up there is one of mine.

You may remember a few months back when Anime News Network got their current Answerman that I sent in an Answerfans response where I talked about my communications and befriending of Ogiue fans in Japan. The above oekaki is from that period.

I have to thank Soramugi, as I had all but forgotten that image, and I’m especially grateful to him for liking my drawing so much. It was kind of an unreal experience just seeing a drawing of mine being used like that, and I know Soramugi is just as surprised that he got to meet the artist behind his icon. He even posted about it! You can also see our correspondence, albeit in Japanese.

I’ve got a good feeling, the kind of feeling you get when you know you’ve earned a comrade.

As an aside, I thought it was pretty cool that I was actually able to recognize my own drawing style.