Kevin Hart is a popular comedian and actor who, until Friday morning, was scheduled to be the host of the 2019 Academy Awards. And he still would be the host of the 2019 Academy Awards, had he not violated one of the sacrosanct rules of life online: never tweet.
Shortly after he was named host, BuzzFeed’s Michael Blackmon reviewed some of the tweets that Hart was frantically deleting:
“Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay,’” read a 2011 tweet that Hart deleted sometime on Wednesday or Thursday.
Benjamin Lee, an editor at the Guardian, was one of the first to point out Hart’s old tweets following the Oscars announcement. “I wonder when Kevin Hart is gonna start deleting all his old tweets,” Lee tweeted, adding screenshots from some of Hart’s since-deleted tweets in which he said someone looked like “a gay bill board for AIDS” and called another person a “FAT FAG.”
Hart’s anti-gay ideology wasn’t exactly a secret before now. As Lee noted in a piece for the Guardian, Hart devoted part of a 2010 stand-up special to describing his terror that his son would turn out to be gay — and his intention to prevent it however he could. (“I’m not homophobic,” Hart added.)
And after the year that Hollywood has had, you might think the academy might have done a Twitter search before naming its host. It was barely three months ago that James Gunn, the high-profile director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, was fired amid a spurious campaign to link him to pedophilia over 2010-era Twitter jokes.
Given a choice of apologizing or doubling down on being an anti-gay idiot, Hart chose the latter, Brian Raftery reported in Wired:
In an Instagram post from that morning, Hart appeared bratty, defensive, and completely dismissive of the growing pushback (he also seemed kind of drowsy, possibly because he filmed it from a bed). “Our world is becoming beyond crazy,” Hart complained, “and I’m not gonna let the craziness frustrate me … if you don’t believe people change, grow, evolve as they get older, [then] I don’t know what to tell you.” In the accompanying caption, he wrote, “If u want to search my history or past and anger yourselves with what u find that is fine with me. I’m almost 40 years old and I’m in love with the man I am becoming.”
Apparently, in Hart’s world, it’s OK for a man to love a man — as long as that man is yourself.
Obviously Hart’s brief tenure as Oscar host-to-be is a dumb story that we all will have forgotten about by happy hour tonight. But it reminded me of a good essay about Twitter behavior that I saw recently on Motherboard: “The internet doesn’t need civility, it needs ethics,” by communications professors Whitney Phillips and Ryan M. Milner.
In the piece, the professors encourage us to think about Twitter as an ecosystem in which users have varying degrees of “biomass” (followers).
In biology, biomass pyramids chart the relative number or weight of one class of organism compared to another organism within the same ecosystem. For a habitat to support one lion, the biomass pyramid shows, it needs a whole lot of insects. When applied to questions of online toxicity, biomass pyramids speak to the fact that there are far more everyday, relatively low-level cases of harmful behavior than there are apex predator cases—the kinds of actions that are explicitly and wilfully harmful, from coordinated hate and harassment campaigns to media manipulation tactics designed to sow chaos and confusion.
Phillips and Milner argue that the collective bad behavior of the insects is at least as important to the overall health of Twitter as that of the lions;
This bottom strata includes posting snarky jokes about an unfolding news story, tragedy, or controversy; retweeting hoaxes and other misleading narratives ironically, to condemn them, make fun of the people involved, or otherwise assert superiority over those who take the narratives seriously; making ambivalent inside jokes because your friends will know what you mean (and for white people in particular, that your friends will know you’re not a real racist); @mentioning the butts of jokes, critiques, or collective mocking, thus looping the target of the conversation into the discussion; and easiest of all, jumping into conversations mid-thread without knowing what the issues are. Regarding visual media, impactive everyday behaviors include responding to a thread with a GIF or reaction image featuring random everyday strangers, or posting (and/or remixing) the latest meme to comment on the news of the day.
Unfortunately, the authors’ proposed solution basically boils down to “be nicer” — great advice, but unlikely to be heeded at scale. Still, it’s worth thinking about — especially for someone like me, who enjoys both posting snarky jokes about unfolding news stories and making ambivalent inside jokes because my friends will know what I mean.
Anyway, I thought of the piece in relation to Hart because his tweets showed him to be a lion eating insects — using his enormous platform to go after a large and harmless group of people who are just trying to live! Talk about punching down.
I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Twitter had been monitoring the accounts of lions like his for ugly anti-gay slurs eight years ago. Perhaps he could have learned his lesson then, and hosted the Oscars in 2019.
As it is, the show is much better off without him.
Cecilia Kang and Daisuke Wakabayashi say we should watch next week’s hearing with Sundar Pichai for signs of how the Democrats intend to wield their new powers in the House of Representatives:
The hearing will provide an early glimpse of how Democrats plan to approach Silicon Valley giants in the coming year as they assume control of the House of Representatives. And the testimony from Mr. Pichai, who is appearing before lawmakers after initially resisting, may provide clues about how he and the company will approach them.
Democratic lawmakers, angry about Russian misinformation online during the 2016 campaign and concerned about the expanding influence of tech’s biggest companies, are expected to target the industry in the next Congress. Some have already raised concerns about potential antitrust and privacy violations, showing more willingness than Republicans to regulate an industry viewed as an engine of economic growth.
Patreon is removing more high-profile far-right figures from the service, David Gilbert reports:
The accounts of British conspiracy theorist YouTuber Carl Benjamin, better known as Sargon of Akkad, and U.S. far-right political commentator James Allsup, were removed Thursday.
The ban will be a particular blow for Benjamin, who was earning more than $12,000 a month from the crowdfunding site.
Here is an extremely dense story about a hearing today on the dissolution of Cambridge Analytica. Honestly it is so dense that I can’t tell you what it means, but it felt important that I note the hearing happened here for posterity. A gold star and free newsletter mention in the Monday edition to anyone who can translate this into American English:
Responding, Watson-Gandy told the court that Carroll “was not a qualifying floating chargeholder, he had not served a winding-up petition, he was not any of those who are the traditional respondents to an application [for administration].”
Recode polled Americans about Amazon’s Regional Office 1 and 2 gambit and found that most people had a positive impression of the project, Rani Molla reports:
Of those who were aware of Amazon’s decision, 67 percent of respondents in the U.S. said they would have been happy if Amazon had chosen their home area for an HQ2. Those people overwhelmingly cited jobs (92 percent) as the reason for their approval, while nearly 60 percent said investment in public works and infrastructure improvements was their reason.
Some 44 percent had a favorable view of Amazon’s decision to split its new headquarters between two cities, while 47 percent were indifferent and just 9 percent had a negative opinion.
The Guardian finds that a far-right activist had been using Facebook’s fundraising tools to crowdfund a British Infowars clone:
He says he has raised several hundred thousand pounds via online donations, some of which were solicited via the Facebook donate button. Robinson has said he plans to use the money to launch a European version of the rightwing conspiracy website Infowars, and to sue the British government over his prison treatment.
But the tool is meant for charities alone. When the Guardian alerted Facebook to this, the social media company switched off the function within hours.
The Arab Spring is often cited as the event that convinced big tech platforms that they would primarily be used for good. But I haven’t seen much academic research on how, exactly, they contributed to the cause. Here’s a new paper from Killian Clarke and Korhan Koçak at Princeton University that attempts to put some rigor behind that idea. (They also use the word “mobilizational.” Academia!)
Drawing on evidence from the 2011 Egyptian uprising, we demonstrate how the use of two social media platforms – Facebook and Twitter – contributed to a discrete mobilizational outcome: the staging of a successful first protest in a revolutionary cascade, or, what we call “first mover mobilization.” Specifically, we argue that these two platforms facilitated the staging of a large, nationwide, and seemingly leaderless protest on January 25, 2011, which signaled to hesitant but sympathetic Egyptians that a revolution might be in the making. Using qualitative and quantitative evidence, including interviews, social media data, and surveys, we analyze three mechanisms that linked these platforms to the success of the January 25 protest: 1) protester recruitment, 2) protest planning and coordination, and 3) live updating about protest logistics. The paper not only contributes to debates about the role of the Internet in the Arab Spring and other recent waves of mobilization, but also demonstrates how scholarship on the Internet in politics might move toward making more discrete, empirically grounded causal claims.
Facebook posted a year-end round up “highlighting the top ways people around the world connected with their communities on Facebook.” It leaves out a few things!
OUCH, from Nellie Bowles:
Inside, surrounded by wall art reminding women to be bold, the Lean In staff has a singular message: Ms. Sandberg now has little to do with the group she founded.
“I don’t want to take anything away — how could I? — from Sheryl as the inspiration for the work that we do,” said Rachel Thomas, the president of LeanIn.org. “But the book came out six years ago. It’s become less and less about Sheryl with every passing year.”
The maker of TikTok is planning to go invest in, and acquire, a slew of new apps, Yunan Zhang and Juro Osawa report:
In China, ByteDance is a media and content powerhouse that operates more than 10 apps, including two blockbusters—personalized news-feed app Jinri Toutiao and short-form video app Douyin. The new venture fund could help the company build new strategic alliances with startups, expanding its platform further beyond its own products. It could enable ByteDance to gain access to new technologies and content instead of relying entirely on its own teams to develop them.
ByteDance executives and investors have attributed the company’s success to its heavy emphasis on AI technology that connects users with personalized streams of articles and videos as well as ads. But as the company tries to attract more users and expand its platform globally, it needs to accumulate a broader range of content covering its users’ diverse interests. Investments in startups could play a role in such efforts.
Kirthiga Reddy was Facebook’s first employee in India. Now she’s the first woman to become partner at SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund.
Predictim, which got in trouble with Facebook and Twitter for misusing their APIs, tries to explain to Brian Merchant why it thinks his babysitter is “risky.” (The short answer seems to be: racism!)
My wife and my son’s grandmother, who, apart from the occasional incensed political post, have very clean profiles—they both work at universities, where they interact with research subjects and students, and are both white—got the ‘Lowest Risk’ ratings on each of the four categories. Kianah, a musician who babysits part-time, has never been anything but kind and respectful, and was enthusiastically referred to us by friends, was flagged as a “Moderate Risk” (3 out 5) for “Disrespectful Attitude” and a “Low risk” (2 out 5) for “Bullying / Harassment.
The photograph in the Facebook post is pretty: piles of red rocks balanced at the edge of a cliff, suggesting a miniature mirror of the jagged rock face opposite. The stacks look like small shrines to mountain solitude, carefully balanced at the edge of a precipice. But when Zion National Park posted the photo, in September, the social-media coördinators for the park included a plea: “Please, enjoy the park but leave rocks and all natural objects in place.” The post noted the “curious but destructive practice” of building small stone towers, and said, “stacking up stones is simply vandalism.”
YouTube Rewind is an annual video about the most famous videos on YouTube posted that year. But this year, the most famous things all got omitted, Julia Alexander reports:
Most creators would probably point to Logan Paul’s controversy surrounding his time in Japan’s Aokigahara forest, a multimillion-dollar boxing match between some of YouTube’s most prolific individuals, and the seemingly never-ending battle between PewDiePie and Bollywood production company T-Series. There were also multiple breakups between adored YouTubers, the rise of Johnny Johnny Yes Papa as a phenomenon, and Shane Dawson ruling the digital space by reimagining what YouTubers could create.
None of these moments appear in YouTube Rewind, the streaming service’s year-end wrap-up video, but that isn’t too surprising. YouTube Rewind is an annual look back at the trends, creators, and moments that YouTube executives and employees consider the most noteworthy. It’s a presentation of what makes YouTube unique, specifically designed to market its creators to advertisers in the hopes of securing large deals. The lack of these moments reiterates the divide between how the platform wants to be seen and the actual culture that creators participate in.
Tom Friedman says regulating the big tech platforms should be a central issue of the 2020 presidential campaign:
Just one person — Mark Zuckerberg — controls Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. The fact that he has shown himself to be much more interested in scaling his platforms than combating those who abused them for political and economic gain — and that his lieutenants were ready to go after their high-profile critics, like George Soros — should make breaking up or regulating Facebook a front-and-center issue in 2020. But just the raw political weight of behemoths like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple needs a closer look.
Cates Holderness celebrates Tumblr and predicts it will be fine even without the world’s largest collection of online erotica:
The 2018 internet is dominated by three giant platforms — Twitter (Do you like Nazis and being harassed for having the audacity to exist? Have I got a site for for you!), Facebook (Your elementary school best friend is getting divorced and your uncle just learned to take selfies, enjoy!), and Instagram (Here’s what your friends were doing without you three days ago when everyone said they just wanted “a quiet night in,” buy this laxative tea while you weep about how lonely you are, then feel guilty for laughing at this meme that got reposted without attribution.). And the joke’s on you — you HAVE to be on all three of them! Happy 2018!!!
This internet feels small, and it’s shrinking every day as its algorithms make everything feel increasingly the same. Amid all this, Tumblr has been a safe harbor of delightful, weird, and deeply human stuff, presented using the radical system known as reverse chronological order. This shouldn’t be rocket science, and yet here we are: Somehow, Tumblr is the only social media platform I use that just shows me the posts from people I follow, in order of when they were posted. The further I scroll, the older posts get. And that’s beautiful. Algorithms don’t try to anticipate what I want to see, and neither is my feed determined by the whims of a random group of people who can up- or downvote things into oblivion.
I can’t get enough speculative discussion about Facebook’s Supreme Court, and Evelyn Douek has a nice piece on the many, many questions surrounding how it will work:
Though Zuckerberg appears to be seriously pursuing the idea, currently his conception of the independent body is more soundbite than substance. When he says that the SCOF will “ultimately make the final judgment call on what should be acceptable speech in a community that reflects the social norms and values of people all around the world,” he sets an impossible goal. There is no homogenous global community whose norms can be reflected in the decisions of a single body deciding contentious issues. But that doesn’t mean the proposed body cannot be an important development in online governance, creating a venue for appeal and redress, transparency and dialogue, and through which the idea of free speech in the online global community develops a greater substantive meaning than simply “whatever the platform says it is.”
How the independent body is set up will determine whether it furthers or hinders rights to freedom of expression and due process. There is a rich literature in comparative law showing that decisions of institutional design can have significant impacts not only on outcomes but the entire stability and legitimacy of a governance structure. These choices give substance to the idea that the body is “independent.” The question of how Facebook defines the body’s jurisdiction is particularly important. Presumably it will cover any take-down decision, but what about the decision to demote content and limit its distribution and engagement, a tool Facebook has said it is using to deal with more and more problematic content? These decisions are particularly opaque and controversial and have generated controversy. If the independent body cannot review these decisions as well, Facebook will be left with a large degree of control over what claims get ventilated and reviewed, and will be able to determine the ambit of the body’s promise of due process.
And finally ...
Tumblr’s announcement that it will ban adult content beginning later this month has set up a new an exciting game in which bloggers attempt to determine exactly where the Verizon-owned network will draw the line. Today’s finding, via Chappell Ellison on Twitter, is that a hot naked man chest is acceptable only if accompanied by an owl wearing a hat.
Please add that to your content moderation guidelines and update your blogging strategy accordingly.
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