Archive for the ‘social responsibility’ category


One award, one interview—positive publicity for May–June 2022

07.06.2022


 
On to more positive things. Earlier this year, Luxlife got in touch with us, to say Lucire had been shortlisted for their awards. It was later confirmed that we had become their ‘Most Pioneering Online Fashion Magazine 2022’, which I was very happy about—especially as we started 25 years ago.

The judges did know of our UNEP partnership, and the fact we had diversified into print in 2004 (and kept that going in different countries). These points differentiate us from pretty much every fashion magazine. The fact family (namely my father) helped keep things going even during the toughest times, including the GFC, also distinguishes us—and a lot of this success is down to him.

You can read our release here, and I mention it on the Lucire website, too.

I was also stoked to see my interview with Komoneed go online. Komoneed is an online community providing global and local knowledge on sustainability, while avoiding false and unfounded information. You can even read it in German, and I had to clarify to a few people that no, I’m not fluent—this was thanks to Komoneed’s translators. The Aston Martin is also not mine—this was a press car from 2007, but I said to Komoneed they could pick whatever photos they wanted from our photo gallery. In fact, I’m still very proud of the story I wrote on the car 15 years ago.
 

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Where democratizing technology got the better of us

13.02.2022

From the start, I’ve been a supporter of the democratization of design. Everyone has the right to access it, because fundamentally good design is something that makes the world a better place. A lot of websites are founded on this, such as Shopify, which has enough flexibility to give most of the stores we visit a unique look. Wordpress’s templates are generally good lookers that take into account the latest trends. There’s an entire industry out there making templates and skins. And, it has to be said, most social media have reasonably good looking interfaces, so people can feel a sense of pride after they’ve posted that they’ve shared text or a photo that has been presented well.

It’s quite perplexing when you confront some other facts. People will judge the credibility of a website by how good it looks (among other criteria). People can also become addicted to social media, and they’re designed to be addictive. And as design democratizes, it’s only natural that the less educated (and I don’t necessarily mean in a formal sense), those who are not trained to discern fact from fiction, will have access to the same technology and present their work as capably and as attractively as anyone else.

It would be wrong to deny this, just as it would be wrong to deny access to technology or good design because we disagreed with someone’s political views or their beliefs, even ones we might find distasteful. The key must be to bring social awareness and education up to a point that there’s no appeal to engage in behaviour that’s harmful to society at large. By all means, be individual, and question. We should have ways in which this can be done meaningfully—one might argue this is done in the corridors of power, as anyone in a good, functioning democracy can stand for office. But in countries with low trust in institutions, or those infected by forces that want to send nations into corporatist fascism, there has to be something that balances the wild west of the online world, one that has marched so far one way without the structures to support it. We have, in effect, let the technology get the better of us. There is no agreed forum online where tempers can be abated, and because we have encouraged such individualist expression, it is doubtful whether some egos can take it. We have fooled ourselves into thinking our own selfies on social media have the same value as a photo taken by the press for a publication. As such, fewer can lead, because no one wants to play second fiddle.

These are confusing times, though the key must be education. It is often the answer. Keeping education up with the technology so our young people can see and understand the forces at play. Give them a sense of which corporations are wielding too much influence. Teach them how to discern a legitimate story from a fictionalized one. Teach them how the economy really works—not just the theory but how the theory has been hijacked.

This can’t wait till university: it has to be taught as early as possible. If today’s kids are bringing their devices to school, then it’s never too early to make them aware of how some online content is questionable. Tell them just why social media are addictive and why they can’t open accounts on the big sites till they’re 13. In fact, tell them how the social media companies’ bosses actually don’t let their own kids use the services, because deep down they know they’re bad for them.

If they know from a young age why some things are harmful—in the same way we were told that cigarettes were, or to say no to drugs—then hopefully they can steer clear of calls on social networks funded by parties who seek to divide us for their own gain.
 
There’ll be a delay in having a gallery on this blog this month as a dear friend is helping me migrate our sites off an old AWS instance. He doesn’t wish to be named. But I am deeply thankful to him.

The data have already been shifted off this server. At this rate I will have to repost this on the new box once the domain is set up. Reposting a gallery might just be a bit tricky, so there mightn’t be one for February 2022, depending on when my friend can get to this domain.

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Medinge Group at Dutch Design Week: the contribution from Aotearoa New Zealand

19.10.2020

My partner Amanda and I are part of Medinge’s presence at Dutch Design Week this year.
   Since Medinge couldn’t celebrate our 20th anniversary due to COVID-19, some of our Dutch members, helped by many others, took the opportunity to get us into the event, which is virtual this year.
   We had done a lot of work on Generation Co earlier in 2020, thanks to a load of Zoom meetings and emails. This takes things even further, but builds on it.
   The programme can be found here, and is titled ‘Putting the Planet First: a New Orientation’.
   The description: ‘Instead of thinking about the 3Ps—your challenge is to adopt a new perspective. Always put Planet first. Then people. Then profit.’
   After signing up for free, you can head into our virtual rooms.
   From the page: ‘Only 21/10/2020, 10:00–13:00 lectures and livestreams from members of the Medinge Think Tank: a group of brand experts and visionaries from around the world whose purpose is to influence business to become more humane and conscious in order to help humanity progress and prosper. With international speakers who have worked on these rights and bring in the perspective from indigenous people who co-exist with the rivers.’
   On Tuesday the 21st at 10 a.m. CET is Amanda’s presentation on the Whanganui River, which was given the rights of a legal person in legislation enacted in March 2017.
   Amanda worked at the Office of Treaty Settlements at the time, so this is really her talk. I just set the laptop on the table, with a microphone generously lent to me by my friend Brenda Wallace. Then I edited it in video-editing software with all the skill of an amateur.
   But that’s the year of COVID-19 for you.
   The way the talk came about was in discussion in 2019 with my colleagues at Medinge Group. The concept of legal rights on natural resources and indigenous rights came up, as did the case of the Whanganui River, which is known beyond our shores.
   They had no idea Amanda worked on it, and proudly I mentioned her role.
   From then on she was part of the programme, and it all came together last Friday.
   In the talk, you’ll see me on a much lower chair than her, propped up by a bag of rice that slowly sags as the recording wears on.
   There’s only so much furniture at her Dad’s studio but it was the most comfortable place we could think of for the filming.
   More important are the contents of her talk, which I thoroughly recommend. She worked really hard on the responses over a few weeks to make sure it was thoroughly rigorous.
   It’s followed by a talk from my good friend and colleague Sudhir John Horo. Pop over, it’s going to be a really eventful day in virtual Eindhoven.

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Coronavirus: the weakening of globalization, and the lessons to learn

12.03.2020

A generation ago, I don’t think many would have thought that globalization could be brought to its knees by a virus. They may have identified crazy politicians using nationalism as a tool, but probably considered that would not happen in developed economies and democracies sophisticated enough to withstand such assaults.
   This course correction might be poetic to the pessimist. Those who emptied their own nations’ factories in favour of cheaper Chinese manufacture perhaps relied on appalling conditions for their working poor; and if China were incapable of improving their lot—and you can argue just why that is—then with hindsight it does not seem to be a surprise that a virus would make its leap into humankind from Wuhan, itself not the shiny metropolis that we might associate with the country’s bigger cities. Those same corporations, with their collective might, now find themselves victim to an over-reliance on Chinese manufacture at the expense of their own, with their primary, and perhaps only, country of manufacture no longer producing anything for them as the government orders a lock-down.
   I argued months ago that failing to declare the coronavirus as a matter of international concern a week before the lunar New Year was foolhardy at best; perhaps I should have added deadly at worst. Here is the period of the greatest mobilization of humans on the planet, and we are to believe this is a domestic matter? If capitalist greed was the motive for downplaying the crisis, as it could have been within China when Dr Li Wenliang began ringing alarm bells on December 30, 2019 and was subsequently silenced, then again we are reaping the consequences of our inhumanity: our desire to place, if I may use the hackneyed expression, profits above people. And even if it wasn’t capitalism but down to his upsetting the social order—the police statement he was forced to sign said as much—the motive was still inhuman. It was the state, as an institution, above people and their welfare.
   We arrive at a point in 2020 where one of Ronald Reagan’s quotes might come true, even if he was talking about extraterrestrials. At the UN in 1987, President Reagan said, ‘Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.’
   This might not be alien, but it is a universal threat, it is certainly indiscriminate and it affects people of all creeds and colours equally.
   Our approaches so far do not feel coordinated globally, with nations resorting to closing borders, which prima facie is sensible as a containment measure. You would hope that intelligence is being shared behind the scenes on combatting the virus. I’m not schooled enough to offer a valuable opinion here so I defer to those who are. But I’m not really seeing our differences vanish, even though we are being reminded at a global level of the common bond that Reagan spoke of. This is a big wake-up call.
   Examining the occidental media, there appears to be a greater outcry over President Donald Trump closing the US from flights from the EU Schengen zone than there was when China faced its travel ban, suggesting to me that barring your nation from people within a group of 420 million is a bigger deal than barring people from a group of 1,400 million. One lot seems more valued than the other lot.
   What I do believe is that we have made certain choices as a people, and that while the pure model of globalization raises standards of living for all, we, through our governments and institutions, haven’t allowed it to happen. We’ve not seen level playing fields as we were promised. We’ve seen playing fields dominated by bigger players, and for all those nations that are sucked into the prevailing mantra that arose in the 1980s, we’ve allowed our middle classes to shrink and the gap between rich and poor to grow. The one economic group that assures prosperity has been eroded.
   As it’s eroded then we’re looking at economies that favour the rich and their special interest groups over the poor, rather than investing in public infrastructure and education.
   No wonder many lack faith in their institutions, and their willing and continued pursuit of the monetarist order over humanistic agenda.
   Yet at the one-to-one level many differences disappear. It’s not helped by social media, those corrosive corporations that seek to separate through algorithms that encourage tribalism, but those that take the time to have a dialogue realize that we are in this together. Within these elaborate websites lies some hope.
   My entire working career to date has been mostly one where individuals and independent enterprises have formed contracts to do business, creating things that once didn’t exist through intellectual endeavour. We have done so outside elephantine multinationals, within which many imaginations have been stifled. We are people who can think outside the square—and all too often, the inhabitants of the square reject us anyway.
   When the world comes back online, I hope we have learned some lessons about the source of our troubles. We’ve willingly let certain institutions get too big at our expense; we’ve allowed a playing field slanted in their favour that encourages a race to the bottom by outsourcing to underpaid people; and as a result we’ve allowed unhygienic conditions to flourish because they’re “over there”, instead of holding corporations and nations to account. It will take us making choices with our eyes open about policies that champion individuals over big corporations; genuinely creating level playing fields where entrepreneurship can flourish at every level and benefit all; ensuring that we properly fund education and other long-term investments; and having strong foreign policies that can constructively call out injustices by suggesting a better way. We need to do this over the long term. The big corporations have mustered global power and so must individuals. Nationalism is not the answer to solving our problems: it is a reaction, a false glimpse into the past with rose-coloured glasses. It is no more a reflection of our past than a young northern lad pushing his bicycle uphill to Dvořák’s ‘New World Symphony’. Nostalgia is often inaccurate.
   Whether you are on the left or the right, whether you love Trump or Sanders, Ardern or Bridges, we’re simply lying to ourselves if we think the other political side is our enemy, when it’s in fact institutions, political or corporate, that have grown too distant to be concerned with anyone but those in power.
   Call me an idealist, but we could be on the verge of a humanistic revolution where we use these technological tools for the betterment of us all. Greta Thunberg has done so for her agenda, and we have a chance to, too: a global effort by individuals who see past our differences, because we have those common bonds that Reagan spoke of. Let’s debate the facts and get us on track, resisting both statism and corporatism at their extremes, since they’re sides of the same coin. What empowers us as individuals? In the system we have today, is there a party that can best deliver this? Who’ll keep the players honest? When we start asking these in the context of the pandemic, the answer won’t be as clear as left and right. And I’m not sure if the answer can even be found in major political parties who wish to deliver more of the same, plus or minus 10 per cent.
   Or we can wait for the coronavirus to disappear, carry on as we had been, keep dividing on social media to help line Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets, and allow another pandemic to venture forth. It can’t be business as usual.

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In the 1980s, I thought society would evolve to become more efficient and smarter

15.02.2020

Growing up in a relatively wealthy country in the 1980s, after getting through most of the 1970s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world would just keep getting better and things would make more sense as humans evolved.
   From a teenager’s perspective: home computers, with a modulator–demodulator (modem), could bring you information instantaneously and from around the world. As an immigrant kid, that excited me: contact with people “back home” and from other places, making communication quicker. You could hear from others, and you could help others who needed you. And if you didn’t have a computer that could connect to a bulletin board, there was Teletext, which gave you regularly updated information through your TV set.
   Cars were getting more aerodynamic, which meant they would use less fuel, and that was understood universally to be a good thing. MPVs were very practical vehicles that had small footprints yet fitted a lot of people, or stuff, inside. Here in New Zealand, natural gas-powered dual-fuel cars were mainstream, and that meant we weren’t reliant on overseas oil. They also didn’t pollute anywhere near what petrol did—they burned cleanly.
   And since saving energy was understood to be a good thing, who knew? Before long solar power would be the norm for new homes and we’d be putting electricity back into the grid.


Alex Snyder/Wayne National Forest/Creative Commons

   I also heard about recycling for the first time as a teen, and that seemed like a good thing—all that old paper and plastic could have a second life.
   People were interested in being more efficient because no one wanted a repeat of the oil shocks of the 1970s. Nor did we want the government imposing carless days on us again.
   That same teenager would have thought that by the dawn of the 21st century—if the US and Soviet Union behaved—we’d have evolved to have recognized that we had the tools to make things better.
   When the internet came to our house in the 1990s, I saw it as a direct evolution of the 1980s’ optimism. It made sense.
   So through that lens, a lot of what the world looks like today doesn’t make sense.
   We have connected computers, milliards which are handheld, yet some of us are addicted to them and others use them to express outrage, rather than delight in having any contact at all with people thousands of miles away.
   SUVs outsell regular cars in some size segments. They are less aerodynamic, use more fuel, and are less efficient. We have American companies—Ford in the US and Holden here—saying that they’ll stop selling cars in most segments in favour of utility trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Petrol is expensive, and I complain about it, but I guess no one else thinks it’s expensive. Dual-fuel cars are a thing of the past here, for the most part, yet lots of people marvel at hybrids, conveniently forgetting we were decades ahead in the 1980s.
   And solar power isn’t the norm.
   We still, happily, recycle—but not everything we collect winds up being recycled. We have an awareness, but if we kept on progressing as I expected us to when I was Greta Thunberg’s age, then we wouldn’t have Greta Thunberg reminding us that we haven’t.
   I wonder if others in middle age realize that humans have the potential to go forward, and in many respects we do—but collectively there are enough of us who go backward and prevent any real advance in society.
   I like to have the same optimism as teenage me about the future. In terms of myself, many things bring me happiness, particularly in my personal and work lives. Yet in terms of society, I wonder if I can be as optimistic. I know deep down that we are interested in efficiency and treating our planet better (or we say we are), so then who are the ones holding us back, and what are we doing that stops us moving forward? Is it personal greed, hoping others will pick up the slack? Many of us choose products and services from companies that align with our views about what we want—yet are we doing the same when it comes to politicians?

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CSR is already woven into Māori leadership

23.04.2019

I was fascinated to read a New Zealand Herald story on the Māori asset base, though it wasn’t the financial part that hit me. What was more significant were the principles behind Māori businesses.
   About 15 years ago, when chatting to a woman representing a Māori winery, I said that she had an amazing opportunity to show that Māori were far ahead of the game when it came to corporate social responsibility, something that was close to my heart with my work for Medinge Group. It’s interesting to see that that impression I had in the mid-2000s wasn’t wrong, and is now backed up by Dr Maree Roche of Waikato University.
   She identifies five values behind Māori leadership, which blends their needs to support marginalized communities, kaupapa, and contemporary influences.
   The values are:

  • whakaiti (humility): the leader enables others but doesn’t take credit themselves;
  • ko tau rourou and manaakitanga (altruism): ensuring the well-being of others and the generosity of spirit;
  • whanaungatanga (others): collectivism and relationships with past, present and future generations;
  • tāria te wā and kaitiakitanga (long-term thinking and guardianship);
  • tikanga Māori (cultural authenticity).

   You’ll recognize a lot of the same words used in much of Medinge’s work on humanistic branding: the need for serving communities; to consider far more than the immediate quarter (‘finance is broken’); and being authentic.
   Māori may find themselves better equipped with their newer organizations to weave in a message about CSR, considering the successful ones already practise it for their own people. Translating that in an export market, for instance, to serving a cause that is of concern to that market, should be comparatively easier than for a company so entrenched in delivering quarterly results to shareholders. Promoting ties between tangata whenua and the export market could be of interest, especially in Asia where many of the same ideas about family, whānau and community are shared. They are in an advantageous position and those of us in New Zealand would be foolish to ignore it.

Originally published at the Medinge Group blog.

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Autocade turns 11 as the web turns 30

12.03.2019


The latest model to appear on Autocade today: the Mazda CX-30.

It’s March, which means Autocade has had another birthday. Eleven years ago, I started a car encyclopædia using Mediawiki software, and it’s since grown to 3,600 model entries. The story has been told elsewhere on this blog. What I hadn’t realized till today was that Autocade’s birthday and the World Wide Web’s take place within days of each other.
   The inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, still believes that it can be used as a force for good, which is what many of us hoped for when we began surfing in the 1990s. I still remember using Netscape 1·2 (actually, I even remember using 1·1 on computers that hadn’t updated to the newer browser) and thinking that here was a global communications’ network that could bring us all together.
   Autocade, and, of course, Lucire, were both set up to do good, and be a useful information resource to the public. Neither sought to divide in the way Facebook has; Google, which had so much promise in the late 1990s, has become a bias-confirmation machine that also pits ideologies against each other.
   The web, which turns 30 this week, still has the capacity to do great things, and I can only hope that those of us still prepared to serve the many rather than the few in a positive way begin getting recognized for our efforts again.
   For so many years I have championed transparency and integrity. People tell us that these are qualities they want. Yet people also tell surveys that Google is their second-favourite brand in the world, despite its endless betrayals of our trust, only apologizing after each privacy gaffe is exposed by the fourth estate.
   Like Sir Tim, I hope we make it our business to seek out those who unite rather than divide, and give them some of our attention. At the very least I hope we do this out of our own self-preservation, understanding that we have more to gain by allowing information to flow and people to connect. When we shut ourselves off to opposing viewpoints, we are poorer for it. As I wrote before, American conservatives and liberals have common enemies in Big Tech censorship and big corporations practising tax avoidance, yet social networks highlight the squabbles between one right-wing philosophy and another right-wing philosophy. We New Zealanders cannot be smug with our largest two parties both eager to plunge forward into TPPA, and our present government having us bicker over capital gains’ tax while leaving the big multinationals, who profit off New Zealanders greatly, paying little or no tax.
   A more understanding dialogue, which the web actually affords us, is the first step in identifying what we have in common, and once you strip away the arguments that mainstream media and others drive, our differences are far fewer than we think.
   Social media should be social rather than antisocial, and it’s almost Orwellian that they have this Newspeak name, doing the opposite to what their appellation suggests. The cat is out of the bag as far as Big Tech is concerned, but there are opportunities for smaller players to be places where people can chat. Shame it’s not Gab, which has taken a US-conservative bent at the expense of everything else, though they at least should be applauded for taking a stance against censorship. And my fear is that we will take what we have already learned on social media—to divide and to pile on those who disagree—into any new service. As I mentioned, Mastodon is presently fine, for the most part, because educated people are chatting among themselves. The less educated we are, the more likely we will take firm sides and shut our minds off to alternatives.
   The answer is education: to make sure that we use this wonderful invention that Sir Tim has given us for free for some collective good. Perhaps this should form part of our children’s education in the 2010s and 2020s. That global dialogue can only be a good thing because we learn and grow together. And that there are pitfalls behind the biggest brands kids are already exposed to—we know Google has school suites but they really need to know how the big G operates, as it actively finds ways to undermine their privacy.
   The better armed our kids are, the more quickly they’ll see through the fog. The young people I know aren’t even on Facebook other than its Messenger service. It brings me hope; but ideally I’d like to see them make a conscious effort to choose their own services. Practise what we preach about favouring brands with authenticity, even if so many of us fail to seek them out ourselves.

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My Avira scan shows Ccleaner v. 5.51 has a virus

15.12.2018

Avira informs me that Ccleaner 5.51 is infected with a virus, called TR/Swrort.ofrgv.
   I haven’t come across anything online about this threat, except for reports in 2017 when Ccleaner was distributed with malware, eventually found to be the work of hackers who compromised the servers of the company behind Ccleaner.
   The Hacker News said that hackers got in there five months before replacing the legitimate Ccleaner with their own.
   I’ve no idea where the blame should go this time, or even if my own computer has been compromised somewhere, but I’ve now downgraded to v. 5.50 and there have been no further alerts.
   Anyone else had trouble with their Ccleaners?

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It can’t be that hard to rank media meritoriously, if only the big players had the will

14.03.2018


US Department of Defense

Keen to be seen as the establishment, and that means working with the military–industrial complex, Google is making software to help the Pentagon analyse drone footage, and not everyone’s happy with this development.

The World Economic Forum’s ‘This is the future of the internet’ makes for interesting reading. It’s not so much about the future, but what has happened till now, with concerns about digital content (“fake news”), privacy and antitrust.
   Others have written a lot about search engines and social media keeping people in bubbles (or watch the video below, but especially from 5′14″), but the solution isn’t actually that complex. It’s probably time for search engines to return to delivering what people request, rather than anticipate their political views and feed them a hit of dopamine. They seem to have forgotten that they exist as tools, not websites that reinforce prejudices.
   Duck Duck Go has worked well for me because it has remained true to this; but others can do it, too.
   However, there needs to be one more thing. Instead of Facebook’s botched suggestion of having everyday people rate news sources, which I believe will actually result in more “bubbling”, why not rank websites based on their longevity and consistency of delivering decent journalism? Yes, I realize both Fox News and MSNBC will pass this test. As will the BBC. But this weeds out splogs, content mills, and websites that steal content through RSS. It actually takes out the “fake news” (and I mean this in the proper sense, not the way President Trump uses it). The websites set up by fly-by-nighters to make a quick buck, or Macedonian teenagers to fool American voters, just disappear down the search-engine indices. Facebook can analyse the same data to check whether a source is credible and rank them the same way.
   It could be done through an analysis of the age of the content, and whether the domain name had changed hands over the years. A website with a healthy archive going back many years would be ranked more highly; as would one where the domain had been owned by the same party for a long period.
   Google’s Pagerank used to look at incoming links, and maybe this can still be a factor, even if link-exchanging is no longer one of the basic tenets of the web.
   There’s so much good work being done by independent media all over the world, and they deserve to be promoted in a truly meritorious system, which the likes of Google used to deliver. Shame they do not today.
   We do know that its claim that analysing the content on the page to determine rank hasn’t worked, if some of the results that pop up are any indication. Instead, we see Google News permit the most ridiculous content-mill sites and treat them as legitimate sources; in 2005 such behaviour would be unthinkable by the big G. As to Facebook, they’ll boost whomever gives them money, so ethics don’t really score big there.
   Both these companies must realize they have a duty to do right by the public, but they should also know that it’s in their own interests to be honest to their users. If trust increases, so can usage. They might even ward off some of the antitrust forces looming on the horizon; fairness certainly will help Google’s future in Europe. But they seem to have forgotten they are providers of tools, perhaps reflecting their principals’ desires to be seen as tech celebrities or power-players.
   Google already has the technology to deliver a fairer web, but I sense it doesn’t have the desire to. I miss the days when Google, in particular, was an enfant terrible, there to shake things up. Now it exists to boost its own properties or rub shoulders with the military–industrial complex. Everyone’s keeping an eye on Alphabet’s share price. Forget the people or ‘Don’t be evil.’
   As I have said often on this blog, there lies a grand opportunity for others to fill the spaces that Google and Facebook have left. A new site can play a far more ethical game, maybe even combine what these two giants offer. If Altavista, once the world’s biggest website, and Myspace, once the king of social networks, can be toppled, then so can these two. Yet at their peak, neither appeared to be vulnerable. Who would have thought back in 1998 that Altavista would be toast? (The few that did, and you are out there, are visionaries.)
   So who is best poised out there to deliver such tools? It would seem now is the time to start, and as people realize that this way is better, be prepared to scale, scale, scale. Remember, Google once did the same thing to oust Altavista, by figuratively building a better mousetrap. Someone just needs to take that first step.

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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 | 5 Comments »