First and foremost, let’s get out of the way what I think about the suspension of the alleged “bots”.
If a developer wants to stop automated posts, it can do so by the means of captcha (or other human verification systems) when it detects a pattern of abnormal activity. Abnormal activity may include but is not limited to rapid posting in succession that a human could not physically do, lack of entropy in mouse movements, and in Twitter’s specific case, simultaneous posting of the same content over multiple accounts within a very small timeframe and within a ring of known IP addresses (e.g., all on the Tor network, or all sharing a common server host name).
I have alluded to the fact that Twitter has no interest in tackling the bot problem normally using the aforementioned criteria as many other sites would do, by blocking future posts and suspending accounts using real-time verification methods. Instead they are going the suppression and censorship route with retroactive analysis. They telegraphed the #TwitterLockOut weeks ago. Today’s hubbub should not have caught anyone by surprise.
Had a proactive real-time approach be used, after a certain number of failed attempts at human verification an account can be rightfully suspended with sufficient and valid proof that the account had been automated all along. This simply hasn’t been done as it would result in an organic suppression of accounts rather than the wave of suspended accounts done at once. The number of false positives in the #TwitterLockOut is guaranteed to be huge since their alternative methods of flagging accounts also have included anyone simply retweeting what they believe to be “fake news” (in their minds). The proof of these accounts being automated via their retroactive analysis thus lies on a very speculative foundation, giving credence to the accusation that accounts are being suspended not for their illegitimate usage, but for their perceived illegitimate opinions.
In any case, this is all expected given that a fallacious appeal to authority and popularity — that of big government agencies and the endless spamming of the accusation on media outlets — is being used as “proof” for “Russian meddling”. This baseless accusation has set the example for Twitter to follow. Solid, certifiable evidence open to public scrutiny is certainly not the hallmark of this censorship movement.
Regardless, just sifting through the Tweets with the #TwitterLockOut hashtag, more than ever am I realizing how much social media has polarized discourse, pushing everyone into their echo chambers.
There are several mentions of users now wanting to resort to the “reciprocation technique” as a means of regaining followers. Many social media mobs employ this strategy to leverage the psychological popularity ploy, but as my prior blog post points out, it is an easily detectable tell for “fake news”. When someone has a wildly disproportionate number of people being followed to those following him or her, it is obvious that the user is doing so simply to give his or her opinions a superficial boost. Too many readers take the mental shortcut: dismissing opinions from those with few followers and giving too much weight to opinions from those with thousands of followers.
Also present with the #TwitterLockOut hashtag is an awful lot of cheering for the opposing team going down, when they are essentially cheering for censorship and authoritative control of content. Regardless whether accounts were automated or not, censoring the content does not discredit any content those suspended accounts posted. In fact it is virtually an open admission of being unable to refute said content with counterarguments, and thus the only way to defeat said content is to delete it.
It shows that people are more concerned about their side winning rather than taking a rational, nuanced, pragmatic approach to issues. Only one side can be right, and they will go to immoral lengths to “win”. There is no negotiating with the other sides.
I believe Jonathan Haidt touched on this issue when commenting on the state of universities today. Social media is much like road rage: neither party can hear each other, nor are willing to understand the other side, but both sides think the other is at fault and are willing to trade punches before talking to prove they are right. Social media and the resultant echo chambers are brewing up a huge road rage storm that won’t end well for anyone.
With every passing week I think it’s more important than ever to drop the anti-social media, discourage collectivization, identity politics and mob formation, and get back to old-fashioned, small-scale, meaningful and reasoned conversations, lest we want one huge road rage incident to close the argument once and for all.
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