Why user-generated content (mine at least) seems to be near a precipice

Recently, Facebook announced it would make various changes to its newsfeed algorithms and policies to encourage people to interact personally more online and engage less in passive news posting and -gathering behavior. We can debate exactly what they want to accomplish and whether this policy change will reduce fake news (there are signs from overseas it might not, and other criticisms), but it is right to stop and wonder how we balance broadcasting our thoughts to others online (or in other vanity efforts like self-published books or vlogs) with real interactions.

Recently, a good friend on Facebook (whom I do see personally and whose professional career has him dealing with some of the national security questions I pose on this blog – and I don’t know any specifics) wrote an in-line post critical of the gratuitous nature of free content on the Internet.  We expect our writers to work for free, he essentially said.  We can’t expect that of plumbers or electricians or people with “real jobs”.  Oh, I can recall debates back in the 1980s as to whether (then mainframe) “data processing” gave us “real jobs”.

My friend’s post begs the question, what is a “writer” anyway?  Is he/she someone who writes what others want so that it will sell (like Joan Didion or Armistead Maupin, both the subjects of indie film biographies last year)?  Or can someone who wants to write a personal manifesto and achieve fame with it a real writer?  Manifestos, however “from on high” they seem, remember, have a bad rap;  a few authors of these screeds have then done some very bad things (like with guns).

So that comes to my own content, which appears to be “free” in the most anti-competitively abusive sense.  I think of Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film “It’s Free” set in a public library (to be followed by “Free Fish”).  Most of my online content appears in four WordPress blogs (set up in 2014 and then 2016) or one of sixteen “Blogger” blogs (starting in 2006).  But there is also a lot of older legacy content on “doaskdotell.com”, all flat html, and this includes all the text of my books.  And, yes, “it’s free”. Like attending my first gay talk group in February 1973.

It’s true that I have Google Adsense on Blogger, but right now my WordPress blogs and flat sites have no advertising, no pop-ups,, no donation jars, no “calls to action”, and no email lists  (The WordPress does invite the user to share on Facebook, Twitter. Or Google-Plus when brought up, with comments, as an individual post).  I don’t run “other people’s” donation (or political candicacy) campaigns on my sites, and I don’t pimp causes from a partisan stance. To a lot of people, it seems, that means I won’t “play ball” with them.

Yet, I’m a fan of Australian blogging guru Ramsay Taplan’s “Blogtyrant” world, and most of his recommendations do apply to small, niche businesses that want to reach consumers, sometimes even some “real” authors (like what Author’s Guild means) and musicians (who sell on Bandcamp as well as Amazon).  Aggression with mailing lists and promotions pays if you have legitimate customers whose needs you can really meet. Otherwise it would fall into spam.

So that brings me to the question, how can I sustain this?  The transparent answer is that I have other money, so it hasn’t had to pay its own way. A lot of it was saved when I was working, because I was able to avoid debt.  (Not having kids means no big mortgage is necessary.)  Some of it is inherited (and that gets into the issue of my own and mom’s trusts, out of scope here).  And I got lucky in 2008.  I probably benefited from it. (Seeing it coming, and some conservative values, helps.)  So call me a rentier, an abusive capitalist, ripe for expropriation by Antifa if you like.

It’s useful for me to go back and recall how I got into self-publishing, long before the Internet became available to newbies.  I probably got my first little article published in 1974, where I argued for gay rights from a libertarian perspective, a “mind your own business” plea to the world.

In the 1980s, I did network with the medical and public health community, the Dallas Gay Alliance, and right wing elements, all by mailed letters, trying to get some sort of political compromise, during a time when Texas (in early 1983) considered passing a very draconian anti-gay law.  I was quite concerned about the shallowness of arguments sometimes put out by traditional “activists” seeming to expect to be viewed as victims merely by belonging to a “class”.  I was particularly attentive to the clinical information as it unfolded.  There was a period when the conventional way of resisting was “don’t take the test” once an HIV test was available.  I did volunteer as a “baby buddy” at the Oak Lawn Counseling Center during that time.

In the 1990s the issue of gays in the military came onto center stage.  The components of the debate at the time (such as “privacy” in the barracks, as well as “unit cohesion”, not quite the same thing) cut across many other issues in an unusual way. I began getting published in some LGBT and libertarian journals (list).  I wanted to get the arguments right at an individual level, without appeals to morally dubious claims of group oppression. Because of my own situation and personal history, I entered the debate, and in August 1994 I decided firmly, while on vacation in Colorado, to write my first DADT book, which I finally issued in July 1997.  Partly to avoid a public conflict of interest which I have explained elsewhere (as in the DADT III book), I took a convoluted corporate transfer to Minneapolis at about the same time. I actually did sell copies of the book reasonably well for the first 18 months or so, but by the middle of 1998 I had discovered I could draw a lot more attention to my work by simply placing the book text online and letting the search engines find it, which they did.  (I paid nothing to do this, other than the nominal fees for a domain – the guy operating the service was a personal friend through work – and I did not need to code metatags or secure SEO to get it found.  It seemed use of free content online for self-promotion was rather novel at the time;  during the dot-com boom, not that many people really did it this way.)   The search engines proved to be effective.  On a few occasions, when I made a controversial addition to material on the site, I got email feed back the next day.  My use of the “It’s free” technique seemed very effective but came under threat from the 1998 “Child Online Protection Act” for which I would become a sub-litigant under the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s sponsorship.

Over time, my commentary would cross over many other issues, particularly with regard to libertarianism for most social and economic issues, and expand out after 9/11 into how you protect personal liberty in a world with external threats, sometimes borne out of populist “politics of resentment” as well as religious fundamentalism (by no means limited to radical Islam) and possibly resurgence of communism (North Korea now). After 9/11, one or the proponents of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue”, Charles Moskos, argued publicly for resuming the military draft (to include women), and dropping the military ban altogether.  That fit into my arguments perfectly.  As personal and job circumstances changed over the years (DADT III again) I kept my material online, and my staying out there so long played a significant repeal in the eventual repeal of DADT in 2011 with Obama in office.

I have contemplated ideas like “opposing viewpoints” automation (book series), which sites like Kialo and Better Angels take on, and I well look into these. Hubpages could provide another opportunity.

Over the years, there have been various threats to the sustainability of the way I work.  These include the undoing of network neutrality and the weakening of Section 230 (the Backpage controversy) as well as various efforts by established media to tighten copyright and trademark laws, not only to combat real piracy (a legitimate concern) but to undermine competition from people (like me) who could compete with them with much lower costs by staying outside the union and guild world.  Another issue, less important in the US than in Europe, is the supposed “right to be forgotten”, which my own use of search engines confounds. As this gets back to libertarian issues (right to work) and to the SOPA debate in 2011.  A critical concept behind all of this is that social media companies and hosting companies not share undo downstream responsibility or liability exposurefor the actions of their users, otherwise they could not let us create user-created content without gatekeepers.

Another possibly grave threat could be personal targeting from (foreign) enemies, or causing others (family members) associated with a speaker like me to be targeted.  I actually was concerned about this while my mother was alive.  This has not happened to me as I don’t seem to be as visible a target as, say, Milo Yiannopoulos (or Pam Geller or Mary Norris), even though I share and communicate some similar beliefs.  But, if you think about this with a Tom Clancy-type novelist’s mind, you can imagine this as another way an enemy could subvert American democracy.  That’s the Sony hack issue at the end of 2014 from North Korea.  Instead, Russia, in particular, noticed that speakers like me tended to be noticed by the “choir” (other academics and policy makers) but not by the “average joe’s”, whose everyday needs we seemed oblivious to.  So the Russians pumped Facebook and Twitter with fake news which gullible people would believe and such a way that Asperger-like people like me (not quite the same as schizoid), trying to influence policy with passive search engine strategy, wouldn’t even notice or care.  For them it worked, and Trump won.

I think a fair criticism of me would be that I don’t actually have anything to sell to customers that meet their needs, so no “Blogtyrant” strategy of playing ball could work. Do I have content that people would “want” and would pay for?  Well, that’s the novel (and to some extent the fiction in DADT-III, which could make a nice two-part indie film), and the music.  In fact, I have worked on my own composed music (finishing what I had started in high school and the early college years, at about the time of the William and Mary expulsion) and, because it is post-romantic, it may actually be capable of “crowd pleasing” in a way that a lot of the manipulative music from established young composers today (under 40) does not.

I do need to “stay on point” with my own work, so it is very difficult for me to respond to pleas from other parties to join their efforts, in activism and resistance.  It is also difficult to give away time in “service” unless I find niche-like service opportunities that are closer to my own skill set.   A good example could be directing chess tournaments which invite underprivileged youth, or arranging concerts for other musicians.

I do get concerned over two big questions.  One is that the permissive environment that has allowed so much user-generated content to reach readers and consumers may not be sustainable for a combination of reasons:  rampant user abuse, security, and the ability of companies to make money legitimately without fake news, bots, intrusive ads, and all kinds of questionable technique.  I don’t know if, for example, Google and WordPress would find it profitable to keep their free platforms forever.  And I can imagine ways it could become much harder in the future to get reasonable hosting than it has been until today.  The recent incidents where alt-right sites (at least one) were banned by most hosts over their content is part of my concern.  You can have a specific objection to, say, neo-Nazism, but then it’s a slippery slope:  radical Islam, communism (Stalinism or gulag-ism, which is where Antifa could find itself headed), all kinds of other complaints based on “intersectionality” or “populism” threaten the whole expectation of legitimacy of free speech.  You could, for example, require that every website, by certain accounting rules, show that it pays its own freight (although that would seem to invite porn back, wouldn’t it).   It’s hard to “pay your own way” without admitting to group preferences and “partisanship”, and showing social “loyalty” and even “community engagement”.  All of this is in tension with my insistence on looking at human rights as an individual’s property, regardless of any membership in a group that claims some sort of systematic oppression (and eventual intersectionality).  But there is no constitutional principle that guarantees that anyone has the right to distribute his own personalized speech without the cooperation of others.

This brings me back to the whole idea of social contract between the individual and his society.  You can call it “rightsizing”, but that’s a dangerous idea that leads to authoritarianism, either on the far right (or alt-right) or far left.  (Yup, a smaller country like Singapore can get away with this, and China is trying to come up with some way to grade people’s social compatibility by 2020!)  Yet, on a personal level, there’s something wrong when we think of others as “unworthy” of becoming prioritized to enter our lives because they aren’t “good enough” and didn’t “make it”.  That used to be hidden more, but there is an implicit understanding that if too many of us think that way, we invite especially right-wing totalitarianism in the door (consider Logan Paul’s movie “Thinning” as a warning).  That may be one reason why I do see so much “pimping” of “other people’s causes” with appeals for “calls to action” all the time.  On one level, I resist getting involved with all these public “knocks on the door” but I probably can’t avoid them forever.  As Martin Fowler wrote in his 2014 book, everyone belongs “somewhere” in some group, and has to bond with people who are imperfect, far less than teen Clark Kent’s.  Everyone’s karma, and whatever fragmentary after life follows (and I think there is one, however fleeting and combinatorial) is greatly affected by what they depended on – and that means groups.  I resist “joining” resistances (and marching and shouting in demonstrations for specific groups), but I know that eventually there comes a point where it is probably impossible to survive without doing so, even without coming in your shorts.

There is a political point here.  If legal or practical considerations made it impossible for businesses to allow me my own platforms, changing what has has been the case since late 1996, I would be forced to work through groups, and advocate for or personally assist people who individually I did not approve of apart from the group.  But this could be better for a lot of people and could address some of the underlying causes of inequality.  This all relates to the “implicit content” problem with free speech, or the “skin in the game argument”.

Perhaps what I am seeing is something like an attack on introversion, a demand that every endeavor somehow relate to other people’s needs. Yet, as “The Good Doctor” shows us, every introverted people sometimes meet real needs, and save us.

Earlier legacy piece on the “free content” idea.

(Published: Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 6:30 PM EST)

Cato Institute holds forum on “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”

Today, Tuesday November 28, 2017, the Cato Institute held a 90-minute symposium “Marxist Origins of Hate Speech Legislation and Political Correctness”.

The basic link is here.  (Cato will presumably supply the entire video in the live space soon.)

The event was moderate by Marian L. Tupy, and featured Danish author Flemming Rose (author of “The Tyranny of Silence”, now a Cato fellow), and Christina Hoff Sommers. Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute.

Rose focused at first on UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1965), Article 20, Paragraph 2, which included a definition of “hate speech” to include “any advocacy or national, religious or racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence…”.   That is, incitement is more than incitement for near term lawless action (as in the US); it includes encouraging others to discriminate. The US and most European countries voted against this at first, but most European countries have come around to this notion in their hate speech laws today.  Authoritarian countries favored this approach, because dictators think that they can stay in power if various minority groups are placated.

Rose traced legal sanctions against both hate speech and fake news distribution to the early days of Communism, back with the Bolshevik revolution (like the 1981 movie “Reds”) where news distribution was viewed in terms of propaganda.  Fake news manipulation (as a propaganda exercise) by foreign enemies is more likely when those who view themselves as educated and elite (“Hillary-like”) have little personal contact with those who are not;  in 2016 the Russians seem to have taken advantage of unawareness of “populism” by more conventional policy pundits.  But it should be obvious that fake news runs the legal risks of libel and defamation litigation, which may be a little easier to parry in the US than in Europe.

Rose also made the point that minorities need free speech to advance themselves, rather than regard free speech as an incitement or invitation to others to continue discrimination.

Authoritarian and leftist interpretation of hate speech law tends to give very little credit to the individual to be able to think and learn from himself, but assumes people will vote in terms of tribal interests, which often is true (as we found out with the election of Trump and Russian meddling). Rose included some panels of modern European fake news law, from Germany and Italy.

Sommers talked about the rapid expansion of campus speech codes, with ideas like trigger warnings and microaggressions and safe spaces, since about 2010.  This seems to have developed rather suddenly. Sommers attributed the rise of these campus speech codes to an ideology of “intersectionality”, a theory of multidimensional group oppression.

At least two questions from the audience came from undergraduate college students, one at GWU, who said that influence of “intersectional” thinking had been quite shocking to him. Milo Yiannopoulos had spent a good part of his “Dangerous” book explaining the perils of this idea.  But other writers, as in the transgender community recently, have tried to make a lot of it.  Again, there seems to be a loss of the idea that self-concept should come from the self (a tautology) and not inherited group identification.

Several thoughts need reinforcement. One is that “hate speech” codes don’t draw a clear line between actual commission of acts and becoming connected to others doing bad things (like “watching” and journaling but not intervening — the “no spectators” idea).  Another is that these collectivist behavior norms regard “systematic” discrimination against identifiable groups (or “intersections” of groups) as akin to actual violence and aggression against the constituent individuals.  Still another idea is that “meta-speech”, where commentators or journalists speak about the discriminatory value systems of the past in order to impart a sense of history, sometimes may come across as an invitation or gratuitous reminder for aggressive politicians to try the same behaviors again;  speakers should be expected to put their own skin in the game.  Finally, there is a loss of interest in individualism itself, partly because “hyper-individualism” tends to leave a lot of people behind as less “valuable”. There is more emphasis on belonging to the tribe or group, or at least in meeting standards of supervised community engagement.

Many attendees had seen the breaking news of (Communist) North Korea’s missile test today on their smartphone just before the session started.

(Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

On “elitism”, real life, and having “too much education”

I wanted to pull together some threads of animosity in today’s multi-polarized climate over many issues, with all the rancor surrounding Donald Trump’s election and presidency.

A key concept seems to be resentment of “elitism”. David Masciaostra has a piece in Salon on Nov. 20, “’Real Americans’ v. ‘Coastal Elites’”. The tone of the piece reminds me of a drill sergeant, when I arrived at Tent City at Fort Jackson SC during 1968 Basic Combat Training, saying I had “too much education”. Others in the barracks regarded me as a “do nothing” or dead wire when it came to risk of pain and sacrifice. Salon mentions people wanting a leader who can talk in middle school language, or “talk that way”. Voters want respect for “real life” (as my mother called it); they see elites as spectators and critics who don’t put their own skin in the game. And some voters seem way to gullible in their response to authority that can get them what they think they want, whatever it costs others; and these voters actually believe that everything that matters in life happens through a chain of command, even within a family.

I could mention a related issue right away: modern society’s unprecedented dependence on technological infrastructure. Trump hasn’t talked about it this way, but Bannon ought to be paying attention to taking care of the power grids, especially, as I have often written here before. Along those likes, I thought I would share a New York Post piece on teen digital addiction. Remember 60 years ago, middle school teachers screamed, “Read, don’t watch television”. And in those days we had only black and white.

The “real life” person doesn’t trust what disconnected intellectuals write, so the “real lifer” doesn’t think it’s important to listen to arguments about pollution or climate change. The lifer knows that she can’t afford Obamacare premiums, but has no concept of how the policy changes promised to her by huckerizing politicians could make things worse for her or for a lot of other people. Lost. By the way, in the argument about health care, is the total lack of transparency in pricing (the GOP is right about this). But the “lifer”, with her anti-intellectualism, ignores a moral precept: that looking after the planet for future generations matters. Yet, it’s only been the last few decades that we’ve come to see that as a moral idea, even given our preoccupation with “family values” – and lineage. It’s ironic that the cultural, even gender-sexist moral arguments of the past flourished in a time of higher birthrates and shorter life spans, when filial piety and taking care of our elders hadn’t become the issue it is today.

Policy problems are often presented in moral terms, but we actually tend to get used to a status quo without asking why things need to be the way they are. If we did have single payer health care (like Canada), it would become the expected public safety net, and unreasonable demands on families or of volunteerism would no longer have a place at the “morality” table. Bernie Sanders is right about this. But other status quos in the past have been “bad”. We accepted homophobia without understanding why other adults’ private lives needed to be our business. We had a male-only military draft, and a hierarchy of forced risk-taking for the country. It took a long time to change these.

We also get used to begging from politicians in terms of groups and identity politics. That works better with “vertical” groups – long, well-established common identities that policy is used to addressing. These include nationality, religious affiliation, and race, and sometimes economic groups like labor and workers.   Groups associated with gender issues and sometimes disability tend to be more “horizontal” as members appear in all the vertical groupings, causing divided loyalties. They intrinsically take longer for partisan political processes to handle. Differentiating “chosen” behavior and inheritance (or immutability) becomes much murkier. “Middle school kids” have a hard time disconnecting this from religion because of “anti-intellectualism”.

We also see appeals to become personally connected to people, as online, as transcending the barriers of the past, but still colored by “identity politics” and a tendency to entangle legitimate individualism with a sense of automatic entitlement to attention from others. We gradually learn that as we distance ourselves from our groups of origin (often families), we find their replacements (even a “resistance”) just as demanding in loyalty and obedience.

All of this leads me to pose the question, “How is the individual who perceives himself/herself as different really supposed to behave?” Maybe not the Pharisee that I became, who wants to be recognized for his original content, but doesn’t seem to care “about” individuals who can’t distinguish themselves.

Here are a couple of other perspectives on elitism: the New York Times on liberal bubbles; The NYT on leaders needing meek little followers; and a (real) “rude pundit” blogger.

(Posted: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)de

Does quoting and analyzing “provocateur” speech (like Milo’s) make more extreme ideas become acceptable to the mainstream?

Does a pundit or columnist or quasi-journalist (and now blogger) like me “do harm” by repeating (in quotes) partially reasonable but hate-motivated arguments made by political, religious or social “enemies” of people in various marginalized groups?

The basic point made by minority activists (usually but not always on the Left) is that repetition of these kinds of points tends to make them sound more mainstream.  So more moderate politicians (elected, administrative, and judicial) are more likely to believe them, resulting in more harm to the people in the groups.

I’ve always questioned the overuse of “immutability” arguments to support “gay equality”, focusing more on libertarian paradigms, emphasizing individualism and harmlessness.  But of course hyperindividuaiism runs into bigger problems with essential inherited inequality, sustainability, and human need for cohesion (starting in the family and moving out).

I have indeed played “devil’s advocate”, to the dismay of some conventional gay activists.  In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, before HTLV-III was identified, I actually communicated by letter to some “enemies” who wanted to use AIDS as an exclusion to strengthen sodomy and gay-exclusion laws.  I was very concerned about the “chain letter amplification” theory that they had (an admission of herd effects, posting Jan. 4).  In these pre-Internet days, I developed a reputation with the Dallas mainstream media and medical community for being willing to even discuss these arguments as if they had a chance of being “truth” – I felt that they could have, even though history (fortunately, for “us”, didn’t turn out that way).

The comment is often made that “well-intended” commentators have made the supposed hate speech of provocateur (“@Nero”) Milo Yiannopoulos “credible” by even answering some of his more notorious comments with contextual analysis.  Most of his more “renowned” statements are intentionally hyperbolic, satirical, and with “grains of truth”.  Some of his statements seem like legitimate reactions to protective campus speech codes, “safe zones”, media-free zones, “trigger warnings” and the idea of “microaggressions”.  It’s gotten so “bad” that I would wonder if I could talk about White and Black as opposing forces in a chess game, when writing a metaphor, without sounding like I was race-baiting.  (Chess has been important in my life, but that’s another narrative.)   Of course, Milo has gained even more notoriety when his campus events are forced into cancellation by a “heckler’s veto” as recently happened in Berkeley.

But some of his statements also seem directed at “less competitive” people in society, especially with respect to physical or biological issues.  One of the more provocative concerned fat-shaming (as here on Breitbart).  The statement suggests that being in the company of an unattractive person lowers his own testosterone.  Maybe marginally true.  I’m reminded of how the Family Research Council made a point about lower testosterone levels in heterosexually married new fathers in trying to rebut gay marriage!

The Inquisitr tried to “mainstream” Milo’s quotes with some contextual analysis, that will work with “intellectual” people but that won’t hold on the streets.   Another more leftist site was less kind, but sill provided some background (although all of it rebuttal).   I showed this second article on my phone to a young white gay man at a social event (someone lean and “attractive” by modern gay norms), and he said the found the aggregation of them in an article just to refute them itself to be offensive.

But logical conclusion from some of the posts would be, to put it mildly, to reinforce CNN’s Don Lemon’s “pull up your pants” advice.   People from marginalized groups (or marginalized further within these groups by physical issues) presumably have some responsibility to deal with the expectations of others  on their own.  That’s not directly hateful, but it putatively does set up a social climate where people will get “left out”, even eventually in being able to find and form relationships.

But provocative speech often gains more attention because of coincidental circumstances at the time it is published or disseminated.  I found this out with a major incident when I was substitute teaching bacj in 2005 (see July 19, 2916 pingback).

We’re left, of course, with the observation that authoritarian people (Donald Trump) rally their support bases around slogans and misleading half-truths, and have no use for context.

Let us remember that Lyndon Johnson made rather disdainful remarks about “the Negro” on some of his tapes.  Times do change.

Link for review of “Real Time with Bill Maher” session including Milo on HBO.

(Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 8:30 PM EST)

Update: Feb. 20, about 8:30 PM EST

There was a lot of news about Milo today, not good.  I’ll have to sort this out.  The Associated Press has a succinct summary on Bloomberg here.  The book deal was canceled (I FB-ed to him that he should self-publish), and a speaking engagement at CPAC was removed, and his future at Breitbart may be compromised.  Milo has suggested that sometimes teens (while legally below the age-of-consent of a particular jurisdiction) provoke encounters with adults to have power over the adults.  That same idea is mentioned in my DADT-III.  Yes, it does really happen in rea life.  That statement does not promote pedophilia (but maybe “ephebophilia”).

Update: March 5, about 11;30 PM

Here’s a controversial link by a University of Chicago professor (Rachel Fulton Brown); a reply on Patheos and a blog post on “loving Milo”.

Charles Murray has had a similar problem at a college in Vermont, story.

Women and most minorities don’t participate as well in online speech as well as “white men”

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The Center for Innovative Public Health Research in New York City has published a study “Online Harassment, Digital Abuse, and Cyberstalking in America” here (58 pages), by Amanda Lenhart and Kathryn Zickuhr, link.

An article on Quartz by Alice Marwick says “A new study suggests online harassment is pressuring women and minorities to self-censor.”

The Internet, most of all modern social media, was built largely by economically advantaged white and Asian men, the article goes.  It also says “straight”, but there is “masculine gay” (mirroring straight values about power and success) and there is, well, “queer”.

The people who built social media they way it is are personally not very vulnerable to harassment or risk.  (Imagine who invulnerable the young Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”, even as played by Jesse Eisenberg, looks – as well as his dorm buddies (one or two of whom were gay).   But people in various “groups” often are, and that includes most women, except for the most competitive or individually successful.  Women may be less likely to share because of fear or retaliation or stalking.  And in some families, individuals have to be concerned about bringing harm upon other family members (besides spouses and direct children).

Personally, I don’t like to share events I am going to on Facebook ahead of time, for security reasons.  Yet some people run events and organizations in such a way that they expect others to “play ball” in the way they use social media.  That works better with people who use Facebook with full privacy settings.  I do use Facebook as a quasi-publishing tool.  That has its own risks, which are more connected to politics than directly to personhood.  But that’s become my life.

Because I use these platforms now as a publishing too, I am fully empowered as a participant in the debates and resent others trying to claim I need to support their speaking for me.  But the study indicates that online self-censorship, out of security concerns, limits the participation of minorities even in debates, in the ability to speak for themselves, with the effect of democratization the Internet is supposed to offer everyone in the West.

Another issue of self-censorship, though, is many college campuses, with their trigger warnings and speech codes.

(Published: Monday, Nov. 28, 2016 at 9:30 PM EST)

Is citizen journalism too much a spectator sport?

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Is citizen journalism a spectator sport?

I could embed this in a broader question, is journalism itself a spectator sport?

It’s pretty well established in major media circles that the top journalists have “paid their dues”, often with conflict reporting, and sometimes with prior work experience as grunts themselves.  It’s easy to come up with a hall of fame:  Anderson Cooper, Sebastian Junger (at one time seriously injured when working as an arborist), Bob Woodruff (who recovered miraculously from head wounds in Iraq), and more recently, OAN’s Trey Yingst.  Stuart Lee of the BBC has an article, “War reporting is not a spectator sport.”

One can add another level: sport’s reporting.  Not everybody is “good” enough to play professional baseball, football, basketball, hockey, etc. or to swim or cycle in the Olymics (many of us would not like the peaking). But others make their way as sports agents (playing “Moneyball”), or as reporters and broadcasters.  And sports journalism is very exacting, requiring constant attention to the detail of everything going on, on and off the field.

Sometimes we wonder about reporting on disasters.  I recall Anderson Cooper’s wading in flood waters in East Texas in September 2008 to report on Hurricane Rita, only to miss the financial crisis to erupt the next day in his own home town.  But with most disasters, journalists get to go home soon and resume their lives.  I wondered this with my last posting on disasters, where an OAN journalist reported on Red Cross volunteer efforts to rebuild the lives of people in eastern Louisiana after the floods, with people apparently willing to come from hundreds of miles away to give time and effort.  Some of the same effort was reported after a major apartment gas explosion near Washington DC.

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That’s where the citizen journalism issue starts to get dicey.  “Amateur” journalism does tend to perform a function that Anderson Cooper calls “Keeping them honest” and that I would term “Do Ask, Do Tell”.  It puts ideas in play that establishment media and especially politicians find hard to deal with, and it tends to confound the organizational discipline of “identity politics”.  But it can also seem nosey or intrusive, and self-indulgent (even in a “feminine” pursuit of “truth”).  Why won’t you “join” us and learn “what it’s like”?  Why won’t you walk in our shoes?  Instead of photographing the flood or fire damage, why won’t you stay and help us rebuild. You know you are more fortunate than us.

That sort of mentality is particularly well dramatized in the Netflix thriller “Rebirth” (review where a particular community enforces a rule “No spectators”.  Indeed, with topics of high security (and sometimes with political campaign events), it’s hard for people without “press credentials” to get in.  In some communities (such as those involving certain immigrants, like those seeking asylum), “curiosity” reporters could inadvertently out the clients in danger, so communities don’t want people without “skin in the game” looking on (that is, willing to take unusual risks to help).

This touches on an area already visited, the campus speech codes issue (May 14), particularly at the University of Missouri, as reported in the Columbia Spectator in an article by Caroline Lee April 4.  If marginalized groups are already demanding “media free” zones with respect to the established press, imagine how they feel about the Fifth Estate (May 30).

I’ll close by mention a Guide by Cordelia Hebblethwaite, “The Social Media Reporter”.  Note the technical knowledge involved in fact-checking social media leads to stories.

(Published: Sunday, August 21, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)

Students need to accept free speech from others on campus, and not expect to feel “safe” all the time

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Michael Bloomberg (former New York City mayor) offers an important op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Friday May 13, 2016, “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus” with a subtext “’Safe spaces’ will create graduates unwilling to tolerate different opinions – a crisis in a free society”.

Bloomberg spoke at an annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign a few years ago (I think in 2013).  His article makes the point that free speech an open debate makes ideas offensive to many in earlier generations mainstream today.  Now this includes marriage equality;  a few years ago it was the service of gays in the military, and a dozen years ago it was taking down sodomy laws.

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The debate is amplified by user-generated content on the Web (most of all in social media, but also in person-owned websites and self-published books).  Even if most people get the bulk of their news from establishment sources, the bulk of views that is “out there” to be found has a big impact on changing attitudes.  Likewise, the possibility of accepting different points of view on a campus is a major way of opening the next generation of adults to ideas that may be necessary for a society to sustain its freedoms.  (How about the science of climate change and green energy?)

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But, it is true, most of the concerns about speech codes have come about from left-leaning campuses concerned about protecting select groups because of the specific histories these groups have with past antagonism from society.  There is a tendency to portray some people as victims, and to coerce others to join in with propagating or even sham-experiencing the victimhood.   The controversy has included insistence of having “media free zones” for campus protests, even on publicly-owned property (the Melissa Click firing from the journalism school at the University of Missouri) and also the notion of defining certain insular personal behaviors as “microaggressions” that can lead to some sort of campus sanction or discipline. I’ve covered this on Blogger in numerous postings, by label, here.

On the other hand, there is plenty of intolerance on some conservative and sectarian campuses, too.  My own expulsion from William and Mary in the fall of 1961 can be viewed as the result of a speech code cast upside-down.

The video below notes that many students have been reared to expect to be “safe” from being made “uncomfortable” and that its odd to see the speech codes from the students themselves.  (Somehow I think of the line “Is it safe?” from “Marathon Man“.)   There is mention of the “Seahawk Respect Compact”  at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and of the “Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression”.  I think another possible interpretation is the converse;  some more radical students may want to see others walk in the shoes of the dispossessed before they are heard from.

The group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) offers its own Guide to Free Speech on Campus.

(Published: Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 3:15 PM EDT)

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Update: Nov. 17

Watch this short film “The Yak in the Room” by Nathan Gelfand-Tourant.  Now, saying you’re not attracted to the opposite race is itself hurtful racism. Maybe this little movie is the antithesis of “Loving“.