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  • Doug Belshaw 10:35 am on February 19, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Jonathan Swift, , social networking   

    Echoes of London coffee houses 

    I don’t think this needs spelling out, but Jonathan Swift, writing in the 18th century about coffee houses, could equally be writing in the 21st century about social networks.

    It is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of a kingdom.


    The problem, of course, is the hunger of lazy journalists, working for advertising-funded outlets, turning idle gossip and speculation into ‘news’.

  • Doug Belshaw 2:46 pm on September 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: online culture, social networking   

    Norming and performing in online spaces 

    I’ve been asking for feedback on Thought Shrapnel from existing subscribers. One replied that he’d appreciate more ‘original content’ as opposed to my thoughts on other people’s work.

    On reflection, I guess this is the way in which Discours.es (this blog) is different from Thought Shrapnel. This is the place where I record thoughts that are perhaps less fully-formed and which aren’t a direct prompt from someone else’s work.

    So I posted on the Slack channel that I share with some friends and former colleagues:

    It seems we’re using social media for social norming/policing in the absence of the state/religion.

    I was asked to expand upon that a bit, so here goes…

    One of the many different ways that I’ve introduced Open Badges is that we all display ‘badges’ of different types without necessarily realising it. For example, we choose to drive a certain type of car, or dress in a particular way. We’re using symbols as a shorthand to help others quickly decide whether we’re friend or foe, in our club or in a different league.

    A lot of that comes down to trust. For example, this morning I went to pick up a parcel from our local Royal Mail delivery office. I’d just been for a run and had a hoodie on. He asked me (as he’s supposed to) for ID to prove that I live at the address listed on the ‘we missed you while you were out’ card. Interestingly, the same guy was on duty when, last week, I went to pick up my daughter’s shoes with a shirt on. He didn’t ask me for ID. The moral of the story? We use heuristics, with appearance and language being important markers.

    (A brief aside: this is why I think emoji triplets could work so well with MoodleNet)

    Things like nation states and organised religions give us a grand narrative within which we can organise our lives. They tell a story about who we are and the kind of things that are important to us. That’s why when I write or say words such as, ‘Englishman’, ‘Islam’, or ‘Switzerland’ there are related concepts that pop into your head. The words aren’t vague but they nevertheless connote as much as they denote.

    What happens, then, when we begin to witness (as we have done in the 21st century) the decline of nation states and organised religions? How do we make sense of our lives? Well, we find our tribes. Thanks to the internet, and in particular social networks, it’s never been easier to find people who think and act like you. There’s no longer any need to conform to the logic of your geographical reality.

    That means that social networks are the proximal cause of a whole raft of changes. Yes, Twitter might have played a hugely emancipatory role during the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011, but as the Snowden revelations demonstrated a couple of years later, social networks can also be used for exactly the opposite purpose.

    What I think we’re seeing with social networks at the moment is the kind of ‘norming’ that we’ve only previously seen from the right of the political spectrum. This widely-shared post makes the point that left-wing activists have perhaps gone too far in expecting a kind of ‘moral purity’.

    Callouts, for example, are necessary for identifying and addressing problematic behavior. But have they become the default response to fending off harm? Shutting down racist, sexist, and similar conversations protects vulnerable participants. But has it devolved into simply shutting down all dissenting ideas? When these tactics are liberally applied, without limit, inside marginalized groups, I believe they hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members.

    Nation states have a monopoly on violence and therefore have developed processes on when and how it should be used. Most organised religions use some kind of Golden Rule and have forgiveness as a key tenet. Unfortunately, ‘callout culture’ does not have due process and online mobs are not known for their forgiveness.

    I see this in the online space all the time now: mobs of people, acting in bad faith, can make people they don’t know and will likely never meet miserable, or even try to ruin their lives and careers… And those mobs’ bad behaviors are continually rewarded, because it’s honestly easier to just give them what they want. We are ceding the social space to bad people, because they have the most time, the least morals and ethics, and are skilled at relentlessly attacking and harassing their targets.

    I’m not sure I agree with “the least morals and ethics” as I think many of these attacks come from misplaced attempts at moral purity. I do, however, think that we should fear the mobs’ ability to relentlessly attack and harrass their targets.

    We can all learn to be a little more tolerant of one another, and to choose the words we use carefully. However, as a privileged white dude who has been careful in my learning curve, I can’t help but think that sometimes the online mobs don’t see past my gender and race.

  • Doug Belshaw 7:57 am on September 1, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , social networking,   


    I deleted my account on the Mastodon instance social.coop yesterday. I still don’t fully understand what went down, but here’s some details from my perspective that I can point to in case people ask.

    Social.coop is/was an experiment in democratic, co-operative social networking that I joined in May 2017. I paid $3/month as a member and return got to participate not only in the social network but help make decisions in their Loomio group.

    It was great until recently. As with all groups that don’t have strong leadership, there was a lot of discussion and debate about what seemed like fairly minor things. One critical failure was the time it took to get a code of conduct in place and a policy about when social.coop would block other instances.

    There must have been some back story that I’m not aware of, but on Wednesday 29th August I ‘tooted’ that I’d weigh in on Loomio when people stopped arguing. In retrospect, should have posted that directly on Loomio rather than Mastodon. I also posted a few points that I thought were salient, including that I felt that the term ‘nazi’ was a form of shorthand and not specific enough for a policy.

    That wasn’t a helpful thing have said and I have apologised for my ignorance.

    On Thursday 30th some other Mastodon instances cited my toot as policy of social.coop and, without an explanation (other than “just no”) silenced/blocked the entire social.coop instance.

    I was willing to stick around and ride things out as there’s always bumps in the road with democratic experiments. However, people on social.coop started leaving, including key members who provide hosting for the instance. It was clear things weren’t going anywhere.

    So, I decided to delete my social.coop account. It’s a real shame, and I’m very sorry that I inadvertently upset people and caused so much drama. Suffice to say I’ve learned a lot from the experience.

    • Simon Grant 8:45 am on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Yes, it has been quite a learning experience, hasn’t it! For everyone who was part of that learning experience, I’d like to see if we can do some peer group learning, as I sense that we can learn a lot more through discussion than we can by ourselves alone.

    • Greg McVerry 12:11 pm on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Yes, I have come to believe that a decentralized approach to the web is better than a federated one. I quit scholar.social because I was a “cross-poster” and they force anyone publishing from their own domain to be “unlisted.” My application to social.coop was never approved.

      Instead be your own fed.

      A good ole blog roll that we share among friends and a chat group is all I need.

      • Doug Belshaw 3:16 pm on September 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks Greg. The problem with the ‘everyone has their own server’ model is that we’ve already tried that, and it failed. We’re now at a place where capitalist social media has made things so ways to use that we can’t provide an alternative that is difficult to set up.

    • Matt Noyes 6:43 pm on September 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      You left too soon. Keep an eye out for work being done in various areas to regenerate the co-op and consider re-engaging if the balance tilts toward hope.

      • Doug Belshaw 8:05 pm on September 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks Matt. I miss that timeline and wish social.coop every success. Sadly, no one did anything but DM support. It wasn’t enough.

    • jwmh 8:25 am on September 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      ask for a facilitator & trainer in nonviolent operating principles w 25+ years of experience (not me! but a teacher in the SF bay area whom i deeply respect & appreciate)

    • mike hales 9:00 am on September 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Greg – Until it’s a package, like any other app, there’s no way folks like me will host a server. I’ve not seen a command line for 25 years, or ever booted Terminal on my Macs, and have no desire to. My (not very well informed) hopes are with fully P2P Holochain, and open apps architecture, or maybe some Scuttlebuttish protocol (maybe even a wireless web?). But that’s some way up the pipeline (?) as an alternative to the everyday internet and platformed apps. Thank goodness for non-capitalist platforms like Loomio. Agnostic platforms like WordPress. Hosting coops. Etc. We’ll get by?

      Best wishes Doug. Hopefully we each get better at spotting our own ignorance before it pitches us into what turn out to be war zones A long haul though?

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