Tag Archives: twitter

The Good, Bad, and Scary of the Banning of Donald Trump, and How Decentralization Makes It All Better

It is undeniable that banning Donald Trump from Facebook, Twitter, and similar sites is a benefit for the moment. It may well save lives, perhaps lots of lives. But it raises quite a few troubling issues.

First, as EFF points out, these platforms have privileged speakers with power, especially politicians, over regular users. For years now, it has been obvious to everyone that Donald Trump has been violating policies on both platforms, and yet they did little or nothing about it. The result we saw last week was entirely forseeable — and indeed, WAS forseen, including by elements in those companies themselves. (ACLU also raises some good points)

Contrast that with how others get treated. Facebook, two days after the coup attempt, banned Benjamin Wittes, apparently because he mentioned an Atlantic article opposed to nutcase conspiracy theories. The EFF has also documented many more egregious examples: taking down documentation of war crimes, childbirth images, black activists showing the racist messages they received, women discussing online harassment, etc. The list goes on; YouTube, for instance, has often been promoting far-right violent videos while removing peaceful LGBTQ ones.

In short, have we simply achieved legal censorship by outsourcing it to dominant corporations?

It is worth pausing at this point to recognize two important princples:

First, that we do not see it as right to compel speech.

Secondly, that there exist communications channels and other services that nobody is calling on to suspend Donald Trump.

Let’s dive into those a little bit.

There have been no prominent calls for AT&T, Verizon, Gmail, or whomever provides Trump and his campaign with cell phones or email to suspend their service to him. Moreover, the gas stations that fuel his vehicles and the airports that service his plane continue to provide those services, and nobody has seriously questioned that, either. Even his Apple phone that he uses to post to Twitter remains, as far as I know, fully active.

Secondly, imagine you were starting up a small web forum focused on raising tomato plants. It is, and should be, well within your rights to keep tomato-haters out, as well as people that have no interest in tomatoes but would rather talk about rutabagas, politics, or Mars. If you are going to host a forum about tomatoes, you have the right to keep it a forum about tomatoes; you cannot be forced to distribute someone else’s speech. Likewise in traditional media, a newspaper cannot be forced to print every letter to the editor in full.

In law, there is a notion of a common carrier, that provides services to the general public without discrimination. Phone companies and ISPs fall under this.

Facebook, Twitter, and tomato sites don’t. But consider what happens if Facebook bans you. You might be using Facebook-owned Whatsapp to communicate with family and friends, and suddenly find yourself unable to ask someone to pick you up. Or your treasured family photos might be in Facebook-owned Instagram, lost forever. It’s not just Facebook; similar things happen with Google, locking people out of their phones and laptops, their emails, even their photos.

Is it right that Facebook and Google aren’t regulated as common carriers? Perhaps, or perhaps we need some line of demarcation between their speech-to-the-public services (Facebook timeline posts, YouTube) and private communication (Whatsapp, Gmail). It’s a thorny issue; should government be regulating speech instead? That’s also fraught. So is corporate control.

Decentralization Helps Dramatically

With email, you get to pick your email provider (yes, there are two or three big ones, but still plenty of others). Each email provider will have its own set of things it considers acceptable, and its own set of other servers and accounts it’s willing to exchange mail with. (It is extremely common for mail providers to choose not to accept mail from various other mail servers based on ISP, IP address, reputation, and so forth.)

What if we could do something like that for Twitter and Facebook?

Let you join whatever instance you like. Maybe one instance is all about art and they don’t talk about politics. Or another is all about Free Software and they don’t have advertising. And then there are plenty of open instances that accept anything that’s respectful. And, like email, people of one server can interact with those using another just as easily as if they were using the same one.

Well, this isn’t hypothetical; it already exists in the Fediverse. The most common option is Mastodon, and it so happens that a month ago I wrote about its benefits for other reasons, and included some links on getting started.

There is no reason that we must all let our online speech be controlled by companies with a profit motive to keep hate speech on their platforms. There is no reason that we must all have a single set of rules, or accept strong corporate or government control, either. The quality of conversation on Mastodon is far higher than either Twitter or Facebook; decentralization works and it’s here today.

New Twitter Client: Twidge

I’ve lately been thinking about Twitter. I wanted some way to quickly post tweets from the command line. But I also wanted to be able to receive them in a non-intrusive way on all my machines. And I wanted to work with Twitter and Identi.ca both.

Nothing quite existed to do that, so I wrote Twidge.

Twidge is a command-line Twitter client. It can be run quite nicely interactively, with output piped through less. Or you can run it as a unidirectional or bidirectional mail gateway. Or you can use its parser-friendly output options to integrate it with shell scripts or other programs.

It’s got an 11-page manual (which is also its manpage). User-friendly in the best tradition of command line programs.

And it’s released today. The source packages include the debian/ directory for you to use for building them, but I’ve also posted an i386 binary that runs on etch and sid on my webpage, until it gets out of NEW.

See the homepage for more info.

Oh, it’s written in Haskell, by the way.

Twitter and Identica Dilemma

Since July, I’ve been trying out Twitter and its open-source competitor identi.ca. Both are microblogging sites, with Twitter being the largest and most well-established of them.

Both let you follow people with their 140-character updates via the web, or with alerts on your phone.

My dilemma involves how to make this work for me.

For some people, I’d like to get an alert as soon as they post an update. For others, maybe get a non-intrusive alert a couple of times a day. I want to get these notices on my computers, whichever one I’m using.

In theory, Twitter lets you follow updates on IM with Jabber. But their Jabber gateway has been down for literally a month now, and though they still have a note saying it will be back RSN, there’s little hope.

Identi.ca has a working Jabber gateway. But unlike Twitter, you can only specify if you want notices from everyone, or nobody; with Twitter, you can sign up for IM notices from just a few people. I already have a Jabber client on all my machines.

So here are my options:

First, I could just use the Twitter and Identica web interfaces only. Not really all that appealing; I don’t want to have to go load up a webpage a few times a day. Also it is annoying to have to open a web browser, pull up a web page, just to enter 60 characters of status.

Second, I could use Twitterfox and Identifox firefox plugins. They look nice, but add yet more bloat to Firefox — and that’s two more plugins per machine to set up and maintain, not to mention that one machine is not aware of what I’ve already seen elsewhere. They do make it easier to post updates.

Third, I could use RSS feeds for reading in bloglines. Not all that realtime though.

Fourth, I could set up two Identica accounts, one which sends all notices to my IM and one which doesn’t. It’d be annoying, and still doesn’t solve my problem with Twitter at all.

Fifth, I could install some Twitter-watching app on all my machines. That’s annoying as it’s yet another piece of software to maintain everywhere, and yet another one to keep updated, AND if that wasn’t annoying enough, they still don’t know what I’ve seen everywhere.

How are all of you using Twitter or Identica?

Also, I’m curious how all these companies that use Twitter and instantly find out when anyone mentions Dell or JetBlue are able to do that. I don’t see a “search everyone’s tweets” feature anywhere.