The Rolling Stones have a masterpiece of a song called Gimme Shelter. On their official YouTube channel, it has, as of January 2023, nearly 5 million views. Another version, very colorful, with the lyrics on the screen, has 95 million. This one’s published by ABKCO. It looks like a celebration. I guess the event of looking at fireworks and being glad that the year was over made some of us feel hope that better things would be on our way. We’re totally fine with the loud sounds and actual bombs in the air, while war is still happening. The reasons? Few can explain.
A lot of people have come forward to popularize the term “streaming wars”. Their good intentions in explaining the phenomenon of people looking for entertainment on screens, but not the TV this time around, made up some interesting debates. But when it comes to things like competition, you might wanna have a second look. After all, if you make a product (in the media, people avoid this notion, but still get the money) and someone else makes a similar one, there’s conflict between the parts. But they have an underlying principle: if it’s a conflict in the field of entertainment, both sides agree entertainment is good.
But who’s going to say that certain kinds of entertainment are actually bad? Sure, this kind of thing brings engagement. But we can’t even talk about restriction zones here without stepping into legal requirements and hard-liners of speech moderation (some, granted, with a much valid cause). Would you look at videogames? Kids were handed controllers and told to go kill some people. Boys, mostly. An incentive to bravery? A trigger of action and promptness of decision? An exercise in strategy calculation? The arguments in favor are many, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the theme is violent.
Now, we don’t know what exactly the metaverse wants to do. What we’ve heard was that you could listen to the same music together, for example (and hey, that actually sounds pretty amazing). But as a very naïve musician, who cares more about the music than promoting a product, I’m more inclined to show people what Snarky Puppy did when they invited everyone into the studio and gave them some amazing headphones, instead of sharing their thoughts on not-so-great immersivity “conquering the world”, as per Pitchfork reporting on the future of music.
That reminds me of an interesting thing about the company once simply called Facebook: as a mission, the company talked about accountability, while Twitter talked about transparency. Anyone remember that? I might have merged the two realms. But when I started following the whole thing more closely, I was recently graduated from college, and changing homes, when Mark did Facebook’s first Public Q&A.
It’s noticeable that Sheryl Sandberg is still there, and that questions should be forwarded to them as they go through the event; also that the very first is related to the need to install Messenger as a separate app in order to see your messages on Facebook. This, of course, was before disclosures about private messaging being targeted by advertisers were made public, something this blog has written about; also, before the Congress hearing where Mark Zuckerberg infamously says: “we sell ads” to explain his company’s near hundred billion profits. If you wanna watch, click the video from 2014 and enjoy an hour of stuff that’s probably not relevant anymore — or be an adult and try to analyze the changes and evolution of these debates, which weirdly seem like historical events. While this is a corporate event, it’s also the biggest company in the world and its CEO coming forward to talk about user issues.
Twitter, arguably not less than Facebook, was pressured too, in a few, not just one Congress hearing (4 hours, everyone).
Now, you may ask: what’s the purpose of asking people to watch these insanely long videos, on a blog, while everyone knows what’s happening today is TikTok, where people get bored after 15 seconds? Firstly, I’d like to say, people are different. Second, people can change. Third, people can be prompted to change, and by association, there are people responsible for guiding others in at least an attempt of showing them ways they can nurture critical thinking. For English learners, I think these are great material sources: we have better informed opinions on these platform issues today, and we’re able to comment, also given that they’re familiar topics. The other argument is that witnessing how these people responded to huge debates on the future of communications, our biggest collective obsession, is undoubtedly going to make you learn some new stuff.
But transparency and accountability are concepts to explore. I don’t mind making it personal: until recently, I didn’t know exactly how much money Facebook operated with. And maybe you’ll struggle figuring out what revenue is against profit, try to understand more specific terminology, understand that Q1, for example, is just one quarter of the year and that public companies listed in stock exchanges need to declare their earnings, which are just for that particular stretch of the year. An earnings report is a form of transparency; so is a hearing broadcast by a media channel answering to tough questions from regulators. Accountability comes when something needs to be either improved or fixed: when you’re responsible for something, it’s your job to make sure it’s working well — and with social media, we find this sort of paradox where we can’t really tell if we’re looking at reality or some projection of it. Surely, we don’t need to all be transparent about our projections; and we don’t need to be held accountable for a projected reality produced by social media that does not represent the facts of our lives accurately.
Two pressing issues seem relevant to discuss and to keep emphasizing: while whatever’s produced on the web has a living component to it that can’t quite be controlled, because of how easily it’s reproduced (and the question of how is probably for security specialists, but sure, call an influencer), we should own what we produce. Marx, anyone? You know, I struggle with the notion that the man was German; but I still see that when I decided to dedicate myself to writing more often, I didn’t just want to be read by a lot of people, and it had nothing to do with authority either — I wanted people saying: “I’ve always felt that. You put into words what I couldn’t express. Thank you for your work.” That is no different than the lady who stands up behind a cash register every day and just puts the money where it needs to be, but that’s what I say after some lessons in humility throughout my life: I always say thank you to them. A much more complicated issue comes to play when we look at what’s put on the web and how it’s manipulated, with oversight of companies. These companies want profit, and sometimes, their control over our internet experience, which is our communication experience and need — therefore, a basic human right — is precisely what determines their profit margins, at the sake of our mental health and the dismissal of our own bodily responses.
I say that with a romantic mindset. There are certain areas where this is all fun and games, thrill and new. But things can change very quickly — and with the implementation of mass monitoring programs, unfortunately, they have been. At some point, those companies were operating at such large scales that there was no other way than putting the task of regulation in the hands of trained artificial systems; and while we might criticize those, we should be concerned about the dangers we might face and damaging effects of an unfiltered internet. If you think I’m being a moderate, you just don’t realize I’m a particularly sensitive man. I come back to the song: something as ugly as war is closer to us than ever before — maybe not geographically, for some; but it’s all over the news already. If you see the metaphor, small actions can provoke immense conflict, and maybe we should all try to catch up on what the motivations to those might be. The machines are; but are we just going to look at beautifully presented graphs?
Jack Dorsey, in the 2018 hearing linked above, faced some of these less dirty and raw questions, and I think it might be in the public interest to debate them — after all, we’re in 2023 and everyone knows, I think, what happened in 2018. No? Just me? Just Brazil? Well, anyway, here’s a summary of the first 30 minutes of that conversation (and you can judge for yourself, as well as my mental health for being simply unable to go back there to watch the rest, but I swear I’ll try):
“Have you heard of Google?” Well, we all have. But we don’t know a ton of stuff, if you’ll excuse the strong language, about its inner workings. Twitter, a minor operator in comparison, defined the role of the company in holding back visibility of specific accounts as non-existent. My mass is non-existent (I’m anorexic). A smart guy asked a question and said that the opposite of shadow banning, and apparently a role of Twitter, would be “augmenting voices that may otherwise never be heard”. He kissed. And then he slapped: it also allowed unprecedented speed of misinformation to circulate on the platform (a study from the MIT showed), and then he played a card: it was questionable how the company worked to prevent “malicious foreign influence”. Draw your own conclusions.
Not a populist, Jack Dorsey stated, however, that “Twitter will always default to open and free exchange” in his opening statement. I mean, do we call on the TMZ? Who’s the guy dating? We all want to know. Maybe he’s self-sufficient: bucket of ice do the work for him. Who knows what kind of pleasure the man derives from that. Maybe it’s the feeling that he’s saving the world, because he’s so hot and he feels guilty, cause he’s also such a good boy, and so he does his part in preventing global warming. Buckets and buckets. Constantly.
3) Opinions and behaviors
The man also says that the team is “always looking for patterns of behavior”, which includes blocking. Hold on a second. Did you say crypto? No? Ok, just checking, cause you know that’s not cool anymore. Opinions are a thing of the past, today we have icons that you click on. Let’s modernize this biz. But notice how generic “behavior” is. In a public hearing. Creepy?
Parallel to shadow banning, there’s a discussion on users “not having the power to amplify a message to an audience that doesn’t follow [them]”. I mean, what’s even journalism? Certainly not people amplifying messages to an audience of people that don’t know them, right? But on top of that, if anyone still appreciates sarcasm, there’s the role of machine learning, and the task of reducing bias. This debate has become so toxic that the best answer will come from a NASA meme. And then another meme, which asks NASA: “are you sure?”
5) Toxic conversations
This one’s more intriguing. Reports about Twitter accounts that included abuse made the platform act on behalf of users. Sure, you might find the current landscape a little grim or slightly less funny — or fun. But they got to work: to promote “conversational health”, they mapped out four indicators: shared attention, shared facts, reception, perspective (in contrast with bubbles and echo chambers). That is according to Dorsey. Notoriously, Jack said about the team at Twitter: “we don’t feel it’s fair that the victims of abuse have to do the work to report it”, and then talked about creating technology to reduce the instances. A noble mission.
There’s an underlying theme in all of social media, apparently: better to prevent than to remedy. But that might not be a clear-cut statement anymore, with people who have started to doubt scientific research (ahem) is the way to do this properly. And among restrictions and prescriptions on the internet, we seem to have moving concepts, but persistent, if not fixed values. Exposure is good, but it can be bad. Visibility works the same way, but you don’t know it until you “earn it”. And so we enter the decision-making area: it seems that whenever ridicule is a road one can travel, they inevitably will. But we’re facing more pressing issues than discussing the fable of the naked king (ahem). A lot of people are naked. So what? Isn’t that good? The human body, a great username from the past of artistic intervention born in the Czech Republic but hosted in Las Vegas, travelled these virgin steps. But who’s a virgin anymore, right? Beyond the ordinary and the confidential, we have an expectation of a less judgmental society that seems to never fulfill itself. LinkedIn showed me an interesting post today, over a week after the beginning of this entry and a tremendously tortuous process: the most viewed TED talk of all time. May its giver rest in peace. He speaks about children’s innate ability and drive for experimentation of the new, through drawing, in his example. But it speaks to us more profoundly, and with British humor. It seems, not a lot of people are capable of understanding nuance. And people have plenty of those. Imperfection, which seems so opposed to the concept of cartooning (arguably a sketch with preserved infant intention), is supposed to be valued. That’s how we know love. It’s also how it may end, but it never does. It wins. It thrives. It hurts, but it heals. The biggest fear of parents today, and grown ups themselves, seems to be the abundance of love. Along with the concepts of memory and affection, care and concern, sensibility and tactfulness which allows its literal nuances and exacerbations, can we build a future where personal lives, political beliefs, interests in general, working histories and positive reputation can speak the same language? We might. If we close our eyes, roll them and let the future be present — a public interest, but a private business model documented for a ridiculously selective few, in charge of selection itself. Time for change, don’t you think?