Posts tagged ‘racism’


Alone again, naturally

12.01.2020

Looking back over the years
And whatever else that appears,
I remember I cried when my mother died
Never wishing to hide the tears.
And at fifty-nine years old,
My father, God rest his soul,
Couldn’t understand why the only lass
He had ever loved had been taken,
Leaving him to start
With a heart so badly broken
Despite encouragement from me,
No words were ever spoken.
And when he passed away,
I cried and cried all day.
Alone again, naturally.

Considering Gilbert O’Sullivan was 21 when he wrote ‘Alone Again’, it’s a remarkably mature lyric, particularly as he didn’t know his father well, and his mother was alive when the song was penned.
   But it is my current earworm and with a slight change in the words, it reflects my mood.
   Of course I’m not “alone”: I have a partner and a network of friends, but there is an element of loneliness as part of the immigrant experience that hardly anyone talks about.
   When you emigrate to parts unknown with your parents, and you don’t have a say in it, you arguably have a different perspective on your new home country than someone who perhaps chose to go there, and you certainly have a different perspective to someone born and bred there.
   I’ve never blogged the full story though most of my friends know it.
   There is a photo somewhere of my family as I knew it at age two or so: my parents, my maternal grandmother, and me. At that age, I knew there were other family members—paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—but this was my immediate definition of family, and I held on to that for a long time. Certainly it was my definition during my formative years.
   I came with my parents and not my grandmother, landing here three days shy of my fourth birthday.
   When my grandmother arrived in March 1978 under the family reunion policy, my mother and I being her only living descendants, I felt ‘the family’ was complete again.
   Immigrants will probably tell you, more so if they are not of the majority race, that they have a sense that they need to face life in this new country together. That most of the people around you won’t be able to share the experience you’re having, because you’re making sense of it through a different lens. We spoke Cantonese at home, and we will have talked about the odd customs of the people here, from the stupidity of the colloquialism bring a plate to my parents needing to fight for the Wellington Hospital Board to give my mother her correct pay (something which ultimately required the intervention of former mayor Frank Kitts). Most of your peers wouldn’t know what it was like for a white person to tell your Mum and yourself to go back to where you came from. Or to be denied service at what is now Countdown on account of your race.
   Repeated experiences like that give you a sense of “the family versus the world”. Happy ones naturally outnumber negative ones—by and large, New Zealanders are a tolerant, embracing people—but it’s probably natural for humans to build up some sort of defence, a thicker skin to cope with a few of the added complications that the majority don’t have to think twice about. It’s why some of us will jump to “racism” as an explanation for an injustice even when the motives may not be that at all. It’s only come from experience and reinforcement, certainly at a time when overt racism was more commonplace in Aotearoa, and more subtle forms were at play (as they still are with decreasing frequency; hello, Dominion Post).
   As the family’s numbers dwindled, it impacts you. It certainly impacted my father in 1994, in the way O’Sullivan’s song says, and as “the last man standing” there is a sense of being alone. Never mind that my father had aphasia in his last years and couldn’t respond intelligibly when I spoke to him: the fact he could hear me and acknowledge me was of great comfort. He understood the context. And frankly, precious few others do.
   Other than aunts, uncles and cousins, the only time I really get to use Cantonese now is at shops where Cantonese speakers serve me. The notion of an ‘Asian’ invasion where you’re walking the streets not knowing what’s being spoken (I’m looking at you, Winston) is rot. You feel the loss of identity as well as your family because identity is relative: while you have a soul, a deeper purpose, that is arguably more absolute, you answer who you are in relation to those around you. I am proud of my heritage, my culture, my whakapapa. They identify me to the rest of you. Each of you holds a different impression, part of the full picture, just as in branding. The last person who understood part of my identity, the one relative to my immediate family who came with me to this new land, is now gone, and that cannot be reclaimed.
   Therefore, this isn’t solely about the passing of an elderly man and the natural cycle of life. This is about how a little bit of you goes as well. Wisdom tells you that you form another part of your identity—say how I relate to my partner, for instance—and in time you rebuild who you are and how you face the world. However, that takes time, and O’Sullivan might be an earworm for a little while longer.

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Posted in culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Victor Billot on the 2019 UK General Election

22.12.2019

I often find myself in accord with my friend Victor Billot. His piece on the UK General Election can be found here. And yes, Britain, this is how many of us looking in see it—like Victor I have dual nationality (indeed, my British passport is my only current one, having been a little busy to get the Kiwi one renewed).
   Highlights include (and this is from a man who is no fan of the EU):

When reporters with their TV cameras went out to the streets to ask the people about their concerns, their motives, their aspirations, they recorded a dogs dinner of reverse logic and outright gibberish. BoJo had screaming rows with his girlfriend, made up policy on the go and hid in a commercial fridge. Corbyn however was seen as the weirdo. “I don’t like his mannerisms,” stated one Tory convert as the hapless Labour leader made another stump speech about saving the NHS. “Britain’s most dangerous man” shrieked a tabloid headline.
   Corbyn made a honest mistake in thinking that people may have been concerned about waiting lists at hospitals. It turned out that voters are happy about queues as long as they don’t have any foreigners in them, or doctors with ‘foreign’ looks at the end of them.


The Murdoch Press machine: predictably, business as usual.

and:

A curious aspect of the election is how the behaviour of the leaders seems to be measured by a new matrix of values. The more boorish, and arrogant, the better, in a kind of pale reflection of the troglodyte Trump in the midnight dim of his tweet bunker. BoJo, a blustering, buffoonish figure with a colourful personal life and the cocksure confidence of an Old Etonian, can be contrasted to the measured and entirely decent Corbyn with his Tube pass and allotment. Perhaps this is an inevitable side effect of the growing rage and alienation that bubbles under the surface of society, providing the gravitational pull towards the ‘strong man’ who will ‘make our nation great (again)’ in a world of other people who aren’t like us.

   I shan’t spoil the last paragraph but it all builds up to that nicely.

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Posted in culture, politics, UK | No Comments »


First night

16.09.2019

Forty-three years ago (September 16, 1976), we arrived in this country.
   As we flew from Sydney and into Wellington, my Dad pointed out the houses below to me. ‘See, those are the sorts of houses New Zealanders live in,’ he said. I thought it was odd they lived in two-storey homes and not apartment blocks. I was three at the time, so I had no clue about the population density of Aotearoa.
   I frequently point out just how cloudy and grey that day was. I don’t remember a summer of ’76–’77, just as no one here remembers a summer of ’16–’17. Only one other car, a Holden station wagon, went along Calabar Road in the opposite direction as we left Wellington Airport.
   Before we departed Hong Kong days earlier, my maternal grandmother—the person closest to me at that point and whom I would desperately miss for the next 18 months—gave me two very special Corgi models at the airport, large 1:36 scale Mercedes-Benz 240Ds. I said goodbye to her expecting to see her in weeks.
   As I was put to bed that night by my father—it wasn’t usually his role—he asked if I wanted to see the cars, since I had been so good on the flights. He got them out and showed me, and I was allowed to have a quick look before they were put back into his carry-on bag.
   None of us knew this was the trip where we’d wind up in Aotearoa. Mum had applied—I went with her to the New Zealand High Commission in Connaught Tower in Hong Kong to get the forms—but we had green cards to head to Tennessee. But, my mother, ever careful, didn’t want to put all her eggs into one basket. And like a lot of Hong Kongers at the time, they had no desire to hang around till 1997 and find themselves under communist rule.
   It was a decision that would change our lives.
   Whilst here, word got back home—and then out to us—that New Zealand immigration had approved our application. In the days when air travel cost a fortune, my parents considered our presence here serendipitous and decided to stay. What point was there to fly back if one’s only task was to pack?
   It’s hard not to reminisce on this anniversary, and consider this family with their lives ahead of them.
   I’ve had it good. Mum never wanted me to suffer as she had during the famine behind the Bamboo Curtain, and to many in the mid-1970s, getting to the Anglosphere was a dead cert to having a better life.
   I had a great education, built a career and a reputation, and met my partner here, so I can’t complain. And I couldn’t have asked for more love and support than I had from my immediate family.
   My grandmother eventually joined us under the family reunion policy in 1978. My mother and I were her only living descendants.
   Despite the happiness, you don’t think, on that night in 1976, that in 18 years my mother would die from cancer and that my widowed father, at 80, would develop Alzheimer’s disease, something of which there is no record in the family.
   Despite both parents having to make the decision to send a parent to a rest home, when it came time for me to do the same thing—and it was the right decision given the care Dad needed—it was very tough.
   A friend asked me how I felt, and I said I felt like ‘the meanest c*** on earth,’ even though I knew I would have made the same decision regardless of other factors as his disease progressed.
   Immigrant families stick together because we often have the sense of “us versus the world”. When Racist ’80s Man tells you to go back to where you came from, it’s not an experience you can easily share with others who aren’t immigrants and people of colour. So as our numbers diminished—my grandmother in 1990 and my mother in 1994—it was Dad and me versus the world, and that was how we saw things for the decades that followed.
   That first night he went to live in a home was the same night I flashed back to the evening of September 16, 1976—and how impossibly hard it would have been to foresee how things would turn out.
   He’s since changed homes twice and found himself in excellent care at Te Hopai, though he now needs to be fed and doesn’t detect as much to his right. The lights are going out.
   It’s a far cry from being the strong one looking after your three-year-old son and making sure he could fall asleep in this new country, where things were in such a state of flux.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Wellington | 1 Comment »


‘If you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave?’

25.07.2019

I didn’t read this thinking of Trump, which is what the Tweeter intended. I read it thinking of New Zealand. Heard the ‘If you don’t like it here, why don’t you leave?’ bullshit a lot—I dare say every immigrant to this nation has. English-born American columnist Sydney J. Harris, in 1969, answered it better than I ever could. (I hope the image appears in the embed below, since I see no img tags—it seems reliant on Javascript.) Presumably this is either the Chicago Daily News or the Sun–Times.

   Not a heck of a lot has changed, has it?
   Hat tip to Juan Incognito for the re-Tweet.

PS.: The Sun–Times has run this on its website, and it was from the Chicago Daily News.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, USA | No Comments »


Bypassing the media, Carlos Ghosn tells it as it is

10.04.2019

I haven’t blogged much about Carlos Ghosn, though I’ve Tweeted aplenty since his arrest last November. Earlier this week, his lawyers released a video of Ghosn stating his position, and it echoes much of what I had Tweeted. He couldn’t make a personal appearance at a press conference himself, thanks to some conveniently timed (for Nissan) evidence that prompted another arrest by the Japanese authorities.
   The way the original exposé was done and the way the Japanese mainstream media lapped up the one-sided story and propagated it verbatim told me immediately that something was rotten inside Nissan. A lack of investigation should always tell you that not all is what it seems.

   While it’s true that Nissan is worth more than Renault now, we can’t forget what a terrible shape it was in at the time the alliance was forged. While Nissan could have declared the Japanese equivalent of Chapter 11, it’s interesting to speculate how it would have emerged: would it have saved face or would consumers have lost confidence, as they have with Mitsubishi? And in the wake of Ghosn’s arrest, stories in the western media began appearing: Nissan’s performance was faltering (‘mediocre,’ says Ghosn). It had had a recent scandal and a major recall. More likely than not, it meant that certain heads were going to roll. To save themselves, they rolled their leader instead.
   We’ll see if there has been financial impropriety as things proceed, but to me there’s an element of xenophobia in the way the story has developed; and it was a surprise to learn at how ill-balanced the Japanese legal system is.
   I’ve been vocal elsewhere on how poorly I think elements of both companies have been run, but Ghosn does have a valid point in his video when he says that leadership can’t be based solely on consensus, as it’s not a way to propel a company forward.
   I’m keeping an open mind and, unlike some of the reporting that has gone on, maintaining that Ghosn is innocent till proved guilty. It’s dangerous to hop on to a bandwagon. It’s why I was a rare voice saying the Porsche Cayenne would succeed when the conventional wisdom among the press was that it would fail; and why I said Google Plus would fail when the tech press said it was a ‘Facebook-killer’. Ghosn deserves to be heard.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, France, leadership, media | No Comments »


Fighting intolerance is the key to a tolerant society

01.04.2019

Hat tip to Mauricio Freitas. Source: Pictoline.

   Quite simple, isn’t it? I sense my parents’ generation (who were kids during WWII) would have understood this, but I worry about my generation and the ones following.

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Posted in culture, politics | 1 Comment »


The double standards on the Ross affair are equally to do with race

09.11.2018

Graham Adams, in a very good opinion in Noted, suggests that while there is a public interest in knowing the identity of the married National MP who had an affair with her colleague, Jami-Lee Ross, the media have been silent because of the relationship it enjoys with parliamentarians. He contrasts this with The New Zealand Herald’s publication of the identity of my friend Bevan Chuang as the woman who had an affair with then-Auckland mayor Len Brown, and concludes that councils have no such relationship.
   Adams makes a compelling case. His suggestion is that if the MP is making a stand for family values, then the hypocrisy should be pointed out. However, personally I have little interest in details of who is sleeping with whom, and I suggest the double standards are not to do with the reason he identifies, but to do with race. I Tweeted:

   On Twitter tonight, Bevan agrees with me:

   She never wanted the limelight on what was a private matter, but we have certain stereotypes at play.
   We even see certain people incensed that we would even stand up for ourselves.
   The sands are slowly shifting, and from what I see on social media, the majority of New Zealanders have no issue with giving everyone the same treatment regardless of their colour or creed.
   Establishments and institutions have proved more difficult to shift. Our media are slowly changing, but many newsrooms have yet to reflect the diversity in our nation. Cast your minds back only to 2013 and newsrooms were even less diverse then.
   Then there is the whole Dirty Politics angle, and as the decade advanced, the National Party seems keen to evolve into a caricature of its past self, borrowing elements from the US in what appears to be a desire to become a conservative parody—except many aren’t in on the joke. It’s a pity because this is the party of certain politicians I admired such as the late George Gair, and it was within my lifetime when its policies had substance.
   I’m not here to bag National (at least not in this post) and maybe the anonymous MP enjoys some protection because of the party she’s in, whereas Bevan found herself embroiled in an anti-Labour attack.
   Of course, the reality could be a combination of all three.
   The one we can do something about really quickly is the race and sexism one. All it takes is the shifting of attitudes, and to call the double standards out when we see them.

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Don’t group Chinese New Zealanders into one faceless bunch

18.10.2018

Some visiting Australian friends have said that they are finding New Zealand politics as interesting as their own, although I don’t think this was meant as a compliment.
   Those of us in New Zealand had a few days of House of Cards-lite intrigue, in that it was stirred up by a conservative whip, in an attempt to take down his party leader. Except it was so much more condensed than the machinations of Francis Urquhart, and, if you were Chinese, Indian or Filipino, in the words of Taika Waititi, it was ‘racist AF’.
   Two of my Tweets garnered hundreds of likes each, which generally doesn’t happen to me, but I am taking that as reinforcing something I truly believe: that most New Zealanders aren’t racist, and that we despise injustices and treating someone differently because of their ethnicity.
   Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross and opposition leader Simon Bridges’ phone call, where the former stated that two Chinese MPs were worth more than two Indian ones, drew plenty of thoughts from both communities, where we felt we were treated as numbers, or a political funding source, with none of us actually getting into a National Cabinet (or the Shadow Cabinet) since Pansy Wong was ousted last decade—making you feel that had other Cabinet ministers been held to the same standard, they would have been gone as well. Here was my first Tweet on the subject:

   While Bridges was quick to apologize to Maureen Pugh MP, whom he insulted in the leaked phone call:

   There’s the inevitable look back through the history of Chinese New Zealanders, who have largely been humiliated since the gold-mining days by earlier generations, and the Poll Tax, for which an apology came decades after during the previous Labour government.
   And the scandal also inspired Tze Ming Mok to write an excellent op-ed for The New Zealand Herald, which I highly recommend here. It’s one of the most intelligent ones on the subject.

   She’s absolutely right: those of us with few connections to the People’s Republic of China don’t like being grouped in among them, or treated as though we’re part of the Chinese Communist Party apparatus.
   Her research showed that roughly half of Chinese New Zealanders were born on the mainland, and that the group itself is incredibly diverse. My father’s family fled in 1949 and I was raised in a fairly staunch anti-communist household, images of Sun Yat Sen and the ROC flag emblazoned on my paternal grandfather’s drinking glasses. My mother, despite being born in Hong Kong, grew up behind the Bamboo Curtain and survived the famine, and didn’t have an awful lot of positive things to say about her experiences there, eventually making her way out to her birthplace during her tertiary studies.
   Tze Ming writes:

This chilling effect is harming Chinese people in New Zealand. Many people cannot differentiate Chinese people from the actions of the CCP (I mean hey, many people can’t tell a Chinese from a Korean), but this is made worse when hardly any authorities on the topic will address the issue openly. Concerns can only erupt as xenophobia against the Chinese and “Asian” population …
   CCP-linked politicians parroting Xi Jinping and promoting Beijing’s Belt & Road priorities don’t speak for at least half of us.

   ‘At least’ is right. My father was born in the mainland where 反共 was a catch-cry in his young adult life. I’m willing to bet there’s an entire, older Chinese-born generation that thinks the same.
   She continues:

It’s endlessly irritating and insulting that both Labour and National have lazily assigned Chinese communities as the fiefdoms of politicians openly backed by the Chinese government.

   That’s true, too. In 2014 I was approached by the National Party asking how best to target the Chinese community. My response was to treat us the same as any other New Zealanders. I’m not sure whether the advice was taken on board, as within months I was invited to a Chinese restaurant for a $100-a-head dinner to be in the presence of the Rt Hon John Key, a fund-raiser that was aimed at ethnic Chinese people resident here. It certainly didn’t feel that I was being treated like my white or brown neighbours.
   The other point Tze Ming touches on, and one which I have written about myself, is the use of the term Asian in New Zealand.
   Let me sum it up from my time here, beginning in 1976, and how I saw the terms being used by others:

1970s: ‘Chinese’ meant those people running the groceries and takeaways. Hard working. Good at maths. Not good at politics or being noticed, and Petone borough mayor George Gee was just an anomaly.

1990s: ‘Asian’ became a point of negativity, fuelled by Winston ‘Two Wongs don’t make a white’ Peters. He basically meant Chinese. It’s not a term we claimed at the time, and while some have since tried to reclaim it for themselves to represent the oriental communities (and some, like super-lawyer Mai Chen, have claimed it and rightly extended it to all of Asia), it’s used when non-Chinese people whine about us. It’s why ‘My best friend is Asian’ is racist in more than one way.

2010s: ‘Chinese’ means not just the United Front and the Confucius Institute (which has little to do with Confucius, incidentally), but that all Chinese New Zealanders are part of a diaspora with ties to the PRC. And we’re moneyed, apparently, so much that we’ve been accused of buying up properties based on a list of ‘Chinese-sounding names’ by Labour in a xenophobic mood. I’ve been asked plenty of times this decade whether I have contacts in Beijing or Shanghai. If you’re born in Hong Kong before July 1, 1997, you were British (well, in a post-Windrush apartheid sense anyway), and unlikely to have any connections behind the Bamboo Curtain, but you’ve already been singled out by race.

   Now, I don’t want to put a dampener on any Chinese New Zealander who does have ties back to the mainland and the CCP. We share a history and a heritage, and since I wasn’t the one who had any experience of the hardships my parents and grandparents suffered, I don’t have any deep-seated hatred festering away. My father visited the old country in 2003 and put all that behind him, too. A republic is better than the imperial families that had been in charge before, and if I’ve any historical power to dislike, I’d be better off focusing on them. So in some respects, there is “unity” insofar as I’ll stick up for someone of my own race if they’re the subject of a racist attack. I’ll write about Chinese people and businesses without the derision that others do (e.g. here’s an article on the MG GS SUV that doesn’t go down the Yellow Peril route). But we’re not automatons doing Beijing’s bidding.
   I’ll lazily take Tze Ming’s conclusion in the Herald:

We deserve better than to be trapped between knee-jerk racists and Xi Jinping Thought. Abandoning us to this fate is racism too.

   I haven’t even begun to address the blatant sexual harassment that has since emerged as a result of the scandal, but others are far better placed to speak on that.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, India, media, New Zealand, politics | 1 Comment »


The easy-to-spot signs of the social media racist

02.10.2018

As Twitter (and other social media) descend, what’s been interesting is seeing how many of us Kiwis aren’t being terribly original. No, I don’t exactly mean Dr Don Brash thinking that he can import US-style division into New Zealand wholesale without understanding the underlying forces that helped Donald Trump secure their presidency (in which case such attempts here will fail), but I do mean how later Tweeters hunt for keywords and arguments to defend institutionalized racism, sexism, and other unsavoury -isms, then use imported techniques because they saw on television that they worked overseas.
   I recall one not long ago who was evidently looking out for white male privilege, with some pretty standard Tweets prepared and an odd refusal to address fundamental questions—that sort of thing. There’s little point getting into a debate with nobodies who troll, and it’s all too obvious how they emerge on your radar.
   Once upon a time social media didn’t have these types, but then once upon a time, email didn’t have spammers. It’s the natural development of technology that humans tend to mess up pretty decent inventions. But, like spam, we find ways of dealing with it.
   Race was one that came up over the weekend. Now, if you’re against racism, it would stand to reason that busting false stereotypes would be something that you’d savour. Ditto if you’re battling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
   I’ve mentioned some of these before, e.g. ‘Asian drivers’ somehow being terrors on our roads, something that statistics don’t bear out. (Or, for that matter, the total lack of truth about ‘women drivers’, who are statistically safer than men.) Among tourists, we’ve established Australians and Germans are the two most dangerous groups. Food has been one that’s been on our minds lately, since my other half managed to find herself ill from eating at two occidental restaurants, and given the amount of research she’s done into the area, I’ll defer to her on the subject. Again it’s an area where I hear myths about Chinese food repeated ad nauseam.
   The thing is that busting stereotypes gives racists less to go on, less of a feeling of superiority, so they’ll begin countering. Women know full well when sexists attack, and racists follow the same pattern.
   A very funny chap sent two swear word-filled Tweets which—and this is the only interesting thing about them—were extracted fully right out of the racists’ playbook. I was only surprised that this was still going on in 2018, hence this blog post, since I thought these signs were so clear by now that no one would be daft enough to try them on.
   Their overriding message: dissing a western stereotype makes you a racist.
   Akin to the ‘I’m not the Nazi, you’re the Nazi’ Tweets and comments seen overseas, there was a suggestion that my lot was just as racist. Now, I don’t deny that any majority race in any country can be racist. It’s how I met one gentleman in Hong Kong who pointed out racism in a schoolbook that had a Filipina caricature—I reached out offering to help. Or calling out the treatment of Malays and Indians by certain business people among my own lot in Malaysia. When you’ve been the minority for most of your life, you can spot it, and you find it particularly tasteless when it’s perpetrated by your own race. (Thanks to #MeToo, it appears some men are getting better at calling out “locker-room talk”, too.)
   But this is a diversion meant to cloud the issues. The intent is to criticize the person (by their race) in order to devalue the argument they make, and not deal with the argument itself. They miss the irony of this and it actually validates your original point. If you can’t answer something civilly, then you haven’t answered it at all.
   In Tweet no. 2 (I wish I had taken a screen shot, as it has been deleted—I didn’t expect the cowardice) was a variation on ‘My best friend is Asian.’ This one was about his partner and stepchildren being Asian, and his own son, who is half-Asian, and how he considers himself Asian. Um, no, you’re not, not from the exhibited conduct, but it’s a feeble attempt to scramble to give his own position a status above yours. Again it’s not about addressing the argument (a classic move in social media), but about debasing the opposition. Another one to look out for.
   Now, if you really were to address this, wouldn’t your best friend being Asian, or having a child with Asian heritage, mean you have a stake in busting myths that could harm that person? That’s not something they really care about, even if it harms those supposedly closest to them. (And those of us in New Zealand have a negative history with the term ‘Asian’, so I doubt you’d actually use it in referencing your ‘best friend’. You’d actually know their heritage, whether it was Iraqi, Asiatic Russian, Japanese, Kazakh, or whatever.)
   Then there are the emotive overreactions, the falsely placed righteous moral indignation that this group is particularly good at. It’s to make you think (unconvincingly) that your statements have potentially offended not just the racist, but, shock, horror, all right-thinking people.
   Think about how a normal person would have reacted, and you have to conclude that no one jumps to uncontrollable shaking anger, the keyboarding equivalent of firing a gun as a result of road rage.
   There’ll be aspects of one or more of these in social media, and those who are combatting prejudice would do well to spot the signs.
   To me, these are signs of unstable characters, akin to an adult having a tantrum. Or they specifically fish for things to make them angry. Now, I don’t know how they dealt with their powerlessness ten years ago, but now they surf among us, hoping in vain to drag you to their level.
   So given they are still around, the local body elections next year are going to be interesting, because you don’t need the Dirty Politics crowd to coordinate it now: it’s a lot easier to provoke this dying group with fake news and let them run riot. On the other hand, it’s also a lot easier to spot them and see the conceit behind them.
   We’re a small enough country for most of us to know this by now anyway. Or so I hope.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Developer creates a tool to expose bigoted, fake Twitter accounts; Twitter bans it

28.12.2017

In theory, one of the positive things about social media should be the fact that a company has as much chance of succeeding as an individual. Another is that it shouldn’t matter who you are, you have the same opportunity to get your word out. No one should get special treatment.
   But, on Twitter, they’ve come out and said a few very disappointing things over 2017. First is that we’re not equal. President Donald Trump of the US may say odd things regularly, things that Twitter would kick you and me off for, but because it’s ‘newsworthy’, there’s an express policy to let him stay. (Believe me, I’d be equally unhappy if a US Democratic president, or anyone, behaved this way, which goes against basic netiquette. This is nothing to do with politics—as a centrist and swing voter I follow people on the left and the right.)
   There are numerous things wrong with Twitter’s position, not least who gets to decide what is newsworthy. Can someone working from Twitter in the US decide if a Tweet of mine is newsworthy in New Zealand? I’m unconvinced. One US news app thought Steven Joyce getting hit with a dildo was of greater significance to us than the death of Martin Crowe, for example.
   Secondly, one would have thought their country was founded on the notion that everyone is created equal, but clearly that’s not the case on Twitter. Maybe no one in charge there read their country’s Declaration of Independence (second paragraph, wasn’t it?), and hanker for the days of Empire again. There’s some truth, then, when Silicon Valley is accused of élitism.
   More recently, Twitter changed one of its rules. Formerly, it was, ‘We believe in freedom of expression and in speaking truth to power’; now, it’s a simpler ‘We believe in freedom of expression and open dialogue.’ I’ve had to read up on what truth to power means, and as far as I can discern, it is an American term with the meaning of ‘speaking out with your truth to those in power’. That seems a perfectly reasonable position: that if you are going to have a dialogue with someone (in power or otherwise), you should do so with integrity and honesty. To me, the alteration in wording suggests integrity and honesty aren’t needed, as long as the dialogue is open. Perhaps at odds with the author of this rule, I always thought Twitter was open anyway, if you did a public Tweet.
   Now I see that Twitter is effectively allowing bots, in the wake of it and Facebook being investigated for allowing bots that might have influenced their country’s presidential election.
   I’ve warned about Facebook bots reaching an epidemic level in 2014 and those who follow this blog know how frustrating it has been to have them removed, even in 2017. Facebook’s people tend not to recognize what any average netizen would, which suggests to me that they’re desperate to keep their user numbers artificially high—even after getting busted for lying about them, when researchers discovered there were actually fewer people in certain demographics than Facebook claimed it could reach. (That desperation, incidentally, could be the reason the company lies about malware detection on websites.)
   Twitter has had a bot problem from the start, as it’s very easy for someone to create an automated account. They tended not to bother me too much, as I followed back humans. However, now I read that some netizens developed a tool that would identify neo-Nazis, only to have Twitter ban it.
   Even under Twitter’s own rules, these accounts impersonate others, at the least by stealing profile photographs from real people. Yet according to journalist Yair Rosenberg in The New York Times today, who said he had received ‘the second-most abuse of any Jewish journalist on Twitter during the campaign cycle,’ Twitter, it seems, is fine with this.
   ‘These bigots are not content to harass Jews and other minorities on Twitter; they seek to assume their identities and then defame them.
   ‘The con goes like this: The impersonator lifts an online photo of a Jew, Muslim, African-American or other minority — typically one with clear identifying markers, like a yarmulke-clad Hasid or a woman in hijab. Using that picture as a Twitter avatar, the bigot then adds ethnic and progressive descriptors to the bio: “Jewish,” “Zionist,” “Muslim,” “enemy of the alt-right.”’
   The account would then send out bigoted Tweets in order to defame the group of people that their profile photo or name suggested they belonged to.
   A developer, Neal Chandra, created a tool to unmask neo-Nazis, and the program went on Twitter to alert people that their discussions had been interrupted by an impostor. However, these accounts began mass-reporting the bot, says Rosenberg, and Twitter ultimately took their side.
   This is exactly like Facebook refusing to remove bots and spammers, even after users have reported them. Chandra’s tool does the same thing in alerting people to fake accounts (which, like Facebook’s, steal someone’s image), albeit in automated fashion, yet again fake accounts have won.
   I find this particularly disturbing at a time when both companies are being questioned by their government: you’d think they would hold back on tools that actually helped them do their jobs and ensured their T&Cs were being complied with. This either speaks to Twitter’s and Facebook’s sheer arrogance, or their utter stupidity.
   These platforms will stand or fall by their stated ideals, and Twitter is genuinely failing its users with this latest.
   It really is like someone coming to a company saying, ‘I will solve one of your biggest problems, one that a lot of your customers complain the most about, free of charge,’ and being trespassed from the premises.
   I’ve quit updating my private Facebook wall (though others continue to tag me and I allow those on my wall), and I wonder if Twitter is next. I reckon we’ve passed peak Twitter, and going to 280 characters—something I was once told by a Twitter VP would never happen—seems like the sort of scrambling that went on at Altavista and Excite when they realized Google had them beat for search.
   I’ve defended this platform because I believe the charges levelled against it by some are unfair: it’s not filled with angry people who want to politicize and divide, if you choose to follow decent ones back. I don’t see much of that in my Tweetstream, and when I do, I might choose to ignore it or, in some cases, unfollow those accounts.
   But if Twitter continues to make dick moves with its policies and practices, then we may feel that our values no longer align with theirs.
   In 2017, Twitter only really worked properly for 11 minutes.
   There’s a lot of work in branding that shows that people choose to support brands that express their values, and that corporate social responsibility is one of the ways to make that connection. Twitter is going the right way in alienating users. Could it be the next one to go, as Mastodon picks up the slack? Sooner or later, one of the alternatives, services which let you keep your identity, something that users are getting increasingly concerned about, is going to get a critical mass of users, and both Twitter and Facebook should fear this.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »