Twitter vs. Facebook: Ferguson Edition

It’s exactly what others predicted and I expected.

Last night, I was relaxing with a glass of wine, watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on my big TV, when I happened to check Twitter to see what was new. The Grand Jury had just handed down its decision in the Michael Brown case: They were not going to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him. There would be no trial, no punishment for the man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager.

On Twitter

The first Ferguson-related tweet I saw last night.

The first inkling I had of this came in a retweet made by a friend that was timestamped 8:06 PM (Pacific).

I already knew deep down inside what the Jury’s verdict would be. I think we all did when we saw how Ferguson was preparing before releasing the news.

I scrolled backwards through my Twitter timeline and saw dozens of tweets, many of them with photos of the rioting going on in Ferguson: looting, burning cars — including police cars and businesses, tear gas smoke, national guard deployments. The situation in Ferguson had gone to hell quickly, fueled by anger and frustration. In other cities — Washington DC, New York, Seattle, Oakland — protesters were gathering. Journalists out in the crowds reported dealing with close calls, injuries, and thefts. Meanwhile, bits and pieces of the documents related to the case appeared in tweets with commentary. The President’s speech, which I also missed, was quoted a handful of times.

I only follow 193 Twitter accounts — many of which are product-related or not very active — and my timeline was packed with a never-ending stream of #Ferguson tweets, many of which were retweeted by NPR News. When I scrolled back to the most recent tweets, each time I refreshed another few tweets about Ferguson would appear. Intermingled with those were non-related tweets; more on that in a moment.

I turned off Lara Croft (who was enjoying a luxuriant bath after successfully destroying a robot in her own home) and tried to pick up “antenna TV.” No joy. (Note to self: get a decent antenna for the TV.)

On Facebook

I went to Facebook. It was like stepping into another world. Only one of my Facebook friends — a woman who lives in St. Louis — was posting updates related to Ferguson. The same updates appeared in her Twitter stream on my Timeline. On Facebook, however, she was the only voice talking about Ferguson among a stream of people sharing cat videos and blown out HDR photos and lists of Top 10 Spelling Peeves and links to link bait content.

Were these two social networks operating on the same planet?

Content Filtering

This tweet appeared in the NPR article; it summarizes exactly what I observed last night.

The difference between Twitter and Facebook feeds did not really surprise me. Only hours before, I’d shared a link (on Facebook, ironically) to an NPR article titled “Silicon Valley’s Power Over The Free Press: Why It Matters.” The article discussed how the media has lost control of distribution by allowing social networks to fill a void they left by initially ignoring social media as a distribution method. The danger to the public is that social networks have the power to control what you see in your social network. Nowhere is that more apparent than when comparing Twitter, which doesn’t (currently) filter timelines, and Facebook, which does.

From the article:

Algorithms and protocols that run social platforms affect discourse, and the engineers behind those protocols don’t have to think about journalism or democratic responsibility in how news is created and disseminated.

A prime example of this is the first nights of the protests in Ferguson, Mo. If you were on Twitter, you saw an endless stream of protest photos and links. If you were on Facebook, you saw nearly nothing. All because engineers decide what news you see.

We already know that Facebook has manipulated our timelines in an experiment about emotions. Clearly, they’re also manipulating our timelines to filter news about specific topics. Does anyone actually think this is a good idea?

Back to Twitter

This tweet promoting Wenatchee appeared in the middle of a long string of tweets about burning cars, vandalism, and an injured journalist. The first word I think of when I see this tweet in that context: uncaring.

One of the things I noticed — and I have to admit that it bothered me — was that among all the horrific news and photos coming out of Ferguson there were cheerful tweets — many of them “promoted” (i.e., ads) — pushing products or websites or Twitter accounts. They revealed social media marketing efforts for what they are: a completely detached, automated scheduling of advertisements aimed at whoever follows the Twitter account.

I wasn’t the only person to notice the problem with scheduled tweets.

I wasn’t the only person to notice this. One of my friends retweeted a comment by another observant Twitter user who advised social media workers to check scheduled tweets. Did any of them do so? Who knows.

A U.K. Twitter user doesn’t think too highly of what’s going on here.

I fell asleep a while later, but woke up around 1 AM (as I sometimes do) and decided to check in on the Ferguson situation on Twitter, which seemed to be my best source. I think it was 3 AM back there and things were settling down. Many of the protesters had gone home. The U.K. was awake — I follow several people who live over there — tweeting about U.K. things. The few tweets about what was going on over here were not complementary. The world apparently sees the U.S. as a hotbed of racism.

Jim Henson is probably rolling in his grave.

And maybe it is. This morning, I was horrified to find an update, 10 hours old, with the image here at the top of my Facebook newsfeed. There were 11 likes. Needless to say, I don’t follow the updates of the person who posted it anymore — and am actually ashamed that he’s one of my real-life friends.

Interesting Links, October 5, 2013

Here are links I found interesting on October 5, 2013:

Enough Already with the Boston Marathon Bombers!

Seriously — most of us only care about a few important details.

I need to start out by agreeing that the Boston Marathon bombing last week was a despicable deed rooted in hate and terror. The loss of life and limb — and I mean that quite literally — is a horrible, horrible consequence. I can’t sufficiently express my outrage — outrage that all Americans feel.

That said, does the media have to keep ramming irrelevant details about the bombing, bombers, and capture down our throats?

You all know what I’m talking about: endless speculation all week long about who the bombers were and what their motives were and what color their skin was and what their religion was. Then the FBI releases the pictures and the whole thing starts all over again.

Along the way, an absolutely insensitive and moronic state senator from Arkansas makes a crack on Twitter:

I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine? #2A
— Nate Bell (@NateBell4AR) April 19, 2013

That triggers a wave of responses and he subsequently deletes the tweet and offers a lame apology.

And then Friday: hours of live and looped video all day, reporting the death of one bombing suspect and the manhunt for the other. This went on all day long.

Even NPR was caught up in it. After a while, I just had to turn off the radio. I got sick of hearing that the FBI would be making a statement in “just a few minutes” and then having to listen to them try to fill the dead air with inane commentary that just restated the same few facts over and over in different ways.

And since then, coverage has shifted to the backgrounds of the two bombers. Media outlets have dragged out every single person the two men knew. Hell, I even read or saw or heard an interview with a man who lived in the same building but never even met them! All of these people are asked to tell the audience what they know about the men and it’s the same crap over and over and over.

Pardon me, but who the fuck really cares?

Now that the men have been taken off the street, I only care about a few things:

  • Did they act alone?
  • Are more attacks by associates possible?

I don’t care about the Miranda rights issue, either. The guy purposely set off two bombs that killed or maimed fellow Americans. He might have information that would prevent future attacks and save lives. As far as I’m concerned, he gave up his rights when he committed an act of terror against Americans. While I respect the ACLU, I wish they’d just realize that this goes beyond an American citizen’s rights. An act of terrorism is a game-changer.

Why can’t the media just stick to the facts in this case and stop filling the airwaves with bullshit?

Is it because they’re incapable of real journalism? Because they’ve blurred the lines between news coverage and entertainment so badly that they don’t know what’s important anymore? Is it because they think we’re stupid and all we care about is the sensationalist bullshit they keep feeding us?

Why don’t more of us speak up and say something about this?

Occupy Wall Street

I’ll voice my own opinion through the words of others.

I’ve been pretty quiet about the Occupy Wall Street movement. And I’ll be honest here: I’m keeping my thoughts to myself because they’re not exactly popular.

And that’s made me wonder whether I’m missing something. Why is it that I’m not all gung-ho about this movement? After all, I share a lot of the same frustrations as the Occupy protesters. Why is it that I don’t feel comfortable speaking out in support of them?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I really didn’t support them — not the way most of the people I know do. I think a lot of people have been blinded by emotion and aren’t seeing the big picture. I’m seeing a bit of that picture, mostly because I’m reading the thoughtful words of others who are far more knowledgable than I am.

I’d like to explain where I stand on this issue by sharing three blog posts I’ve read about the Occupy movement that really ring true to me. I’ve linked to these on this blog and on various social networks, but I haven’t really talked much about why they’ve echoed my sentiments. Here are my comments, in the order in which I read them.

Like a Rolling Stone

First off, Matt Taibbi’s excellent October 25 piece for Rolling Stone, “OWS’s Beef: Wall Street Isn’t Winning It’s Cheating.” This is Matt’s attempt to explain why the protest isn’t about envy. It’s about anger — anger over the fact that Wall Street investment firms and banks aren’t playing by the same rules that the American public is. He points out the availability of interest-free loans, forgiveness for missing payments, bailouts for losses resulting from bad/careless business decisions. He’s absolutely right: the average American doesn’t have Uncle Sam to help him out of trouble if he makes a bad investment decision or misses a mortgage payment. Financial institutions do. And because of this, they’re able to reap huge profits and pay their executives huge salaries and bonuses. They’re cheating, Taibbi argues, and that’s how they’re winning. And that’s why the Occupy protesters are angry.

I pretty much agree with this. After all, it explains why I’m angry. I’m angry partially because my tax dollars went to rescue financial institutions that were “too big to fail” instead of creating jobs, improving education, or helping people get affordable health care. I’m angry because the management of those financial institutions — the same people who send jobs overseas, stick customers with huge fees, and take bailout money when they make business mistakes — have huge compensation packages. I’m angry because I know that the reason big business gets all these benefits is because they paid good money to line the pockets of too many politicians, one way or another, and those politicians are taking care of the people who paid them off — not the people who voted them into office.

And here’s another thing: If I make bad decisions in my business, my business would fail. Why is it that big financial institutions aren’t allowed to suffer the consequences of their own mistakes — and I have to? That’s what’s making me — and many others — angry. It’s the unfairness of the system. That’s the point Taibbi is trying to make and I think he does a pretty good job, with lots of examples to illustrate what he’s saying.

But, at the same time, I think Taibbi’s mistaken if he thinks all of the OWS protesters are driven by anger more than envy. Too many are pushing socialistic ideas like wealth redistribution. Too many believe they’re entitled to jobs — not just honest jobs that utilize their skills and give them a stepping stone to move up. They seem to want only certain kinds of jobs with only certain kinds of companies, jobs that pay a high wage without making them “wage slaves.” I blogged about this the other day.

And with people like that in the movement, it’s hard for me to support the movement as a whole.

Who Is Dave Ramsey? Beats Me.

Dave Ramsey’s October 19 piece, “Dear Occupy Wall Street ,” summarizes another reason why I can’t fully support the OWS movement. This is what has been nagging me for a long time — the movement hasn’t been able to adequately communicate exactly what it expects to achieve. In this piece, he critically reviews the slogans found on OWS protester signs. His thoughts pretty much echo mine.

Now I don’t who Dave Ramsey is. From what I gather from his website, he’s some sort of financial advisor. (I see a tab labeled “Church Leaders” on his home page and I find that worrisome, given my own lack of belief.) Is he left, right, center? I don’t know and I don’t care.

One of the problems we have these days is that if we know the messenger, we automatically agree or disagree with what he says because of labels put on him. But do we ever stop to read what these people have to say? I don’t care if Dave Ramsey is an ultra conservative, Tea Party card-carrying wacko — I agree with almost everything in this piece. Why don’t you read it and see if you do?

Words of Wisdom from Alaska

And finally, tying all the strings together in a nice, neat package, is a recent post by Jim Wright in his blog, Stonekettle Station. I like Jim’s writing. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He says exactly what’s on his mind. But instead of just blathering out solid opinion (as I so often do), he backs up everything he says with facts or information from his own personal experiences as a retired naval officer.

In “Occupy Wall Street, Lessons From The Tea Party, and Niven’s Law,” Jim begins by explaining why it has taken him so long to write about OWS. And, as I read, I began to realize that he also felt a lot like I do about the movement.

Jim’s main beef is twofold:

  • These are not peaceful protests. While yes, it’s true that in some instances, police have overeacted (think pepper spray in NYC), in many other instances, the police have just been doing their job to control unruly mobs. Interestingly, he compares OWS protesters to Tea Party protesters and the Tea Partiers come out looking not only a lot more civilized, but a lot more effective.
  • In a democracy like ours, We the People have the power to make changes like many of the ones the OWS protesters apparently want. That power is granted by the vote. Jim points out that the number of people who bother to get out and vote is rarely as high as even 65%. That’s 35% of the people who — in his opinion (and mine) — have absolutely no right to complain about elected officials and the laws they pass.

Jim’s no-nonsense piece is an excellent critical analysis of the situation, along with suggestions on how it can be improved to be more effective. After getting a lot of feedback, he wrote a follow-up piece, “Occupy Stonekettle Station, The Follow Up,” which attempts to bring rational thought into a reader discussion dominated by emotion-charged excuses and criticisms. But will people listen? I doubt it.

The Way I See It

In my mind, the OWS movement has problems on multiple levels.

  • Emotions are getting in the way of reason. People are caught up in the anger or envy (or whatever) of the main theme. They’re either for it or against it, period. They’re too emotional to consider the facts.
  • The main theme (and sub themes) are not being clearly communicated. Because the movement is so disorganized, there are too many themes and some contradict others. Yet supporters focus on the ones they agree with and assume the whole movement is about that. This simply isn’t the case.
  • Sources of information are biased and are showing just one side of the issue. For example, we all saw a few innocent women get pepper-sprayed for no apparent reason — and that image got many people to support the movement. But did we all see the man defecating on a police car? Or the mob breaking windows at a bank? Or the people hurling burning bags of shit at police officers? If so, did that change your opinion of the movement as a whole?
  • People trying to engage in a reason-based discussion of what’s going on and how it could be made more effective are being shot down by the blind supporters of the movement. Why do you think I’ve been so quiet? Every time I mentioned my doubts on Facebook or Google+ I was blasted by “friends” who could only shoot back with emotion-based arguments.

It’s unfortunate because the movement is polarizing would-be supporters, thus losing the support of rational, thoughtful people who might help it succeed.

Those are my thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street movement, as voiced by others who have written in more detail about it. I’m not against it, but I’m not for it in its current form.

I’ve been saying for months now that we need to clean house, we need to vote out everyone in office. I’m not blowing smoke. I really think this is true. Politicians are in the back pockets of big business. We need new politicians — candidates who actually care about the people — to move in and make a change. The only way to get that is to vote.

Don’t fight the system. Use it.

Got Something to Add?

June 30, 2014 Update
I’ve finally gotten around to writing up the site comment policy on a regular page (rather than post) on this site. You can find it here: Comment Policy.

I’ll leave comments open here — at least for a while — but I will remind everyone of the comment policy. I will not approve any comments that include a personal attack on me or any other commenter.

In addition, if you want to comment on this post, read the articles I linked to here first. If your comment demonstrates that you didn’t even bother to read what you’re commenting on, I will not approve it. I’m presenting this blog post as an attempt to get a reasonable discussion going. If you can’t be reasonable and back up what you say with facts, don’t waste your time here.

Murdoch Drags the Wall Street Journal Down to His Level

Such a sad, sad sight to see.

Defending News Corp against criticism of its illegal phone hacking and police bribing activities, Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece that included this classic line:

Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?

I am deeply offended by this piece on several levels.

  • Murdoch has built a fortune with yellow journalism. By buying up and controlling so many media outlets, he has brought journalism standards down worldwide. Not convinced? Roger Ebert explains the impact Murdoch had on the Chicago Sun-Times during his ownership.
  • Murdoch has insulted the intelligence of half the American public and conned the other half with his so-called “fair and balanced” news network, Fox News. The network not only promotes tasteless and sensationalist news stories, but it clearly promotes Murdoch’s conservative viewpoint, often with misstatements, half truths, and quotes taken out of context.
  • In the opinion piece from which the above quote was taken, Murdoch seems to suggest that his company’s news gathering techniques are protected under the First Amendment. In other words free speech allows journalists to collect news by whatever means are available to them. The legality of their actions simply doesn’t matter. Of course, Murdoch is also free to define “news” any way he sees fit.

In my opinion, there is no single news organization that has done more harm to America than Fox News. It oozes hate and mistrust, it pits Americans against each other and their elected political leaders. It makes news out of scandal — except this one, of course — and ignores or misrepresents the real issues that Americans need to know about.

Murdoch is responsible for this.

Fortunately, those Americans who haven’t been sucked into the half-truths spewed by FOX News have other sources of information: NPR, PBS, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal. Well, scratch that last one.

The above-referenced opinion piece is the first example — at least the first I’ve seen — of where the Wall Street Journal is being used as a Murdoch disinformation tool. Not only has the Journal’s business reporting suffered, but it’s now becoming Fox-ified.

In the Journal piece, the unnamed author says this about its competing media outlets:

The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw.

Why shouldn’t it be? News Corp has done more damage to the news industry than any other organization. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m enjoying the schadenfreude, too.

Want another point of view on this Journal opinion piece? Read what Felix Salmon says on Reuters.