Map blogger. Science fiction and fantasy critic and writer. Snake whisperer.

Tag: social media

Social Media and Snake Identification

Local snake identification groups on Facebook have been reducing the number of snakes being killed out of fear, Emily Willingham reports for Scientific American. The work of snake ID groups, such as Facebook’s Snake Identification group or Reddit’s r/whats­this­snake subreddit, has been covered before (see Sierra in 2017), and now that I no longer respond to snake ID requests myself, I point people to these very groups. The interesting twist here is that these are local groups, focusing on a specific region (e.g. north Texas). Not only is local expertise more relevant and reliable (r/whatsthissnake gets ID requests from every continent), but a local group might also help someone get on-site assistance (not every snake problem can be solved remotely).

‘Instagram Is Dead’

Om Malik on what Instagram has become: “What’s left is a constantly mutating product that copies features from ‘whomever is popular now’ service—Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever. It is all about marketing and selling substandard products and mediocre services by influencers with less depth than a sheet of paper. ¶ It has become QVC 2.0.” The online world is run by people who actually think that what we really want to do is watch marketing videos interrupted by commercials.

‘Twitter Is the Worst Reader’

Having been on the receiving end of Twitter vitriol half a dozen times, sf writer Fonda Lee has some thoughts about being in the crosshairs of the rage machine. “Twitter removes the trust between writer and reader by flattening meaning to the single most offensive understanding and proliferating that version alone. […] For the most part, we authors write for a receptive, open-minded audience, an audience that has paid money for our work and wants to trust us. Twitter is the opposite of that, a twisted looking-glass version of reality in which the readership beyond our immediate circle is poised with hostile scrutiny.”

Goodreads Is a Cesspool

Time sheds light on the toxic cesspool that Goodreads has become: “Scammers and cyberstalkers are increasingly using the Goodreads platform to extort authors with threats of ‘review bombing’ their work–and they are frequently targeting authors from marginalized communities who have spoken out on topics ranging from controversies within the industry to larger social issues on social media.” Social spaces need moderation, in which Goodreads is woefully deficient. Platforms become vectors for bad behaviour not because they’re popular, but because they’re vulnerable.1 Combine that with authors feeling that they have no choice but to have a Goodreads presence (or a social media presence in general), and this is what you get.

Some Weekend Reading

The rekindling of Fireside magazine (Andrew Liptak, Transfer Orbit): “Now, Fireside is looking to right the ship. After the controversy broke, Brian White, the magazine’s original founder and former Editor-in-Chief, stepped in as the publication’s Interim Editorial Director to save the publication, and is now implementing some new changes to try and steer the magazine back to sustainability.”

Queer readings of The Lord of the Rings are not accidents (Molly Ostertag, Polygon): “Revisiting the book in the last year, as someone who has been out for many years and who is deeply engaged in making and consuming queer stories, I was amazed to find a same-sex love story at the heart of the narrative.” Frodo and Sam: obvious in hindsight—and, here’s the thing, it was not necessarily not deliberate on Tolkien’s part.

How Twitter can ruin a life (Emily VanDerWerff, Vox): “In January 2020, not long after her short story ‘I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter’ was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.” I’m not sure Twitter is to blame here, rather than an online sf community that’s gotten comfortable with punching down for great justice. On the other hand:

Did Twitter break YA? (Nicole Brinkley, Misshelved): Young-adult writers have turned to Twitter to connect with their audience; this has not turned out well. “Relying on Twitter to shape a culture like YA publishing inevitably leads to a moment where the most vulnerable participants in that industry will break. Either they become part of the rage machine, or the rage machine turns on them.”

Taking Facebook Quizzes Is a Bad Idea

From January, but all the more relevant now that more people are at home, bored and wasting time on social media: Why taking Facebook quizzes are a bad idea. The quizzes ask questions—like the name of your first pet, the city of your birth or the month of your birth—that are often used as security questions for bank accounts. No single quiz asks for enough information to do it, but you might be giving criminals enough information across multiple quizzes to hack your account. After all, you don’t know who’s behind these quizzes, but they know who you are—because you’re using your Facebook account!

Mastodon Is the Dreamwidth of Twitter

Here we go again. Twitter is once again being awful and clueless—to the point of paralysis—about it now being the last safe harbour for online harassers, trolls, Nazis and other bad actors, and a good chunk of its user base is sufficiently fed up about it to threaten a mass walkout.

But walking away from Twitter is difficult, because social media is pervasive and addictive for a reason: it solves a problem. Human beings crave connection, and social media makes connections practically frictionless. Problem is, it’s pretty damn hard for users to connect when they’re subjected to torrents of abuse and harassment by bad actors, especially when Twitter not only refuses to deal with said bad actors, but seems to think that the existence of abuse and harassment is a feature rather than a bug.

Twitter Isn’t Just Awful, It’s Unnecessary

So I’m taking a day off from Twitter, in solidarity with #womenboycottTwitter. It was an easy decision to make, because Twitter is objectively awful on several levels. It’s a performative rage-machine with a distressingly bad signal-to-noise ratio that enables racists, fascists, harassers and other sociopaths and punishes the targets of same. In a sane world we wouldn’t put up with it, but we do—and Twitter’s management is counting on that—because we think Twitter is somehow necessary, in terms of getting our message out, in terms of sending traffic to our websites …

Yeah, about that. It turns out that Twitter is terrible at sending traffic to websites. Despite all the noise and the rage, we tend not to click on the links attached to tweets.

To see what I mean, here are some traffic stats from The Map Room, my map blog. New posts on The Map Room are automatically posted to Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Tumblr (and someone’s even imported the RSS feed into LiveJournal), but there are share links at the bottom of each post as well. So where does most of The Map Room’s traffic come from?

Twitter: A House No One Wants to Buy

twitter_logo_blueTwitter’s harassment problem is finally — finally — biting it in the ass. Both Salesforce and Disney have passed on making an offer for the social media company, and it’s being reported that at least part of the reason is Twitter’s inability or unwillingness to deal with trolls, harassment and abuse, which would have done damage to the companies’ brand image if they had made Twitter their responsibility. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was one of them.

I’m always one for analogies. Here’s one that comes to mind: Twitter is a homeowner trying to sell their house. Now the house needs a lot of work. Fixing that house up will not only get you a better price, it’ll improve your odds of selling it at all. A house that needs fixing up scares off a lot of potential buyers; if and when it does sell, it’ll be at a much lower price than it would have had the homeowner did the repairs in the first place.

I wonder if now, at long last, Twitter will start fixing its house up. Because leaving the repairs for the next owner to deal with is not a great selling point.

Facebook, Kingsnake.com and Reptile Hobbyists

The liberal political website Daily Kos has a piece on how Facebook has been wreaking havoc on independent website owners by drawing away both users and advertising dollars. They used as their example Jeff Barringer’s Kingsnake.com, which a decade and a half ago was the online reptile community website. That was a blast from the past: back then I spent an awful lot of time reading and commenting there, but I don’t think I’ve visited it at all in more than a decade.

It’s safe to say that most reptile hobbyists have migrated to Facebook. The mailing lists I subscribed to have been moribund for years, whereas I manage an active Facebook group with 2,500 members. What precipitated the move? I have a few guesses. For users, discoverability—everyone’s already on Facebook. And a Facebook group is turn-key: easy to set up, easy to use, already part of the ecosystem. You don’t need to buy web hosting or set up forum software. Also, reptile hobbyists are a fractious lot. A bunch of Canadian reptile hobbyists up and left Kingsnake.com’s Canadian site in a huff and started another site; then a bunch of that site’s users left it in a huff and started yet another site (which is still in operation, kind of). This diluted the authority of any one community website; no single site was compelling enough to have the stickiness necessary to go up against Facebook.

The end result is bad for independent site owners, who rely—or rather relied—on ad revenues that have long since dried up, and bad for the web ecosystem in general. It’s great for Facebook, of course, but it’s not necessarily bad for individual users. Let me be blunt: Kingsnake.com today looks a lot like it did in the late 1990s. Most independent reptile communities were not necessarily well-run in a technical or community sense. For users, Facebook can be an improvement—especially if Facebook is too busy delivering targeted advertising based on your personal data to care whether or not you should have to pay to post a classified ad.

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