I picked a fist fight with the sun, and the sun won.
Despite how it may appear, I don’t go out of my way to be a contrarian. It just kinda ends up that way, because I believe that truth is more important than tribe, freedom of expression is sacred, and that a functioning society depends on our ability to embrace pluralism. I misstep, like everyone, and might go down a rabbit hole from time to time, but generally, my intentions are always good and always oriented towards fairness, transparency and compassion.
With everyone becoming more polarised, and ultimately more rigid in their beliefs as a result of this insanity called the US Culture Wars, it’s getting easier and easier to find yourself on the wrong side of the military-industrial complex and its hyper-capitalist content factory, which, via the internet, has proven extraordinarily adaptive… and either co-opts or destroys everything or anyone in its path.
Be damned the consequences.
Unfortunately, if you are someone like me, your social media experience will not be like everyone else’s. You’ll be on the receiving end of… well… a lot of weird shit. Some you’ll know about; some works quietly in the background to mess with you, because, purely by virtue of being interested in the role the culture wars plays and its impact on users, well, you end up sucked into it.
You may even start to think you’re going crazy or everyone hates you. Well, anyone remotely self-aware would feel that way.
But, don’t worry. It’s mostly just nobody sees your stuff, fuelled by a combination of un-manned algorithms and a series of unfortunate events. I promise. It’s not you.
If you’ve ever said anything controversial that rubs up against some well-funded interest – whether it be a major brand, a cryptocurrency, a political issue, an election, the CIA, a 100 year old conspiracy theory or a 13 year old’s favourite game, you might have experienced the following process:
At first, you might notice a bunch of bots, or troll farms in your mentions: a whole bunch of anonymous accounts accusing you of being something-phobic, or a baby-killer, or whatever. If you know what to look for, the language is cookie-cutter, stilted and vague, but can fool someone naive. Or, they may start out polite, but progress very quickly to abuse. If you ignore the abuse or stand your ground, they will mass report you and every tweet on your account until Twitter’s unmanned and stupidly-broken algorithm takes you down. You get your first suspension, sometimes out of the blue, and sometimes for something years ago Strike One.
Then, you’ve attracted the wrath of the trolls. Slip up again or another historical tweet is found. Mass report. Strike Two.
You then are likely to get flagged with Twitter’s internal system as a problem. It looks at who you’re connected to. Note that at no point does a human being touch this. Then, if everyone you’re connected to is also flagged as a problem/and or tripping up the algorithm under, say, #hashtagoftheday with identical language… well, you see how this all goes.
Algorithm trips up, bye bye Twitter account with nary a reasonable human in sight. There are exceptions, but this is mostly how Twitter works.
I’m seriously, starting to think that Twitter is run by three kids in a trench coat. But anyway.
In my case, bots and troll farms mess with me a lot, so I started to play with them and see if I could break them, or get them to leave me alone. I successfully got them to leave me alone (Tip: they get paid per engagement so you should exhaust their resources OR tell them you report them (this takes down their networks – see below)). Then the reporting of old tweets started and I started getting suspensions for random things from years ago.
Again, nary a human being to talk to at Twitter.
All of these troll farms and unethical agencies have tools that search individual Twitter accounts for certain words and then mass report you – or – if you are famous enough to be a target (and yes, they know your influence/reach more than you do) – will try to get you trending/publish hit pieces on whack-a-mole ‘news’ sites and create a bot-fuelled, idiot-fuelled ‘cancellation’. And if some influential dimwit thunkpiece writer decides it is newsworthy, well, sorry, but you’re a bit fucked. Weather the storm.
Note that it is not just one interest at play, but multiple. Thousands. All corporations, all political parties, all PR companies, all who have any interest in nudging you in their direction – hire these dark agencies. Many of them don’t even know, because their above-board agencies buy replies, or do it without the client’s knowledge. Some even hide in plain sight and have the gall to call themselves a not-for-profit.
Nobody will ever admit to these dark tactics, but they all do it. It’s the digital industry’s worst-kept secret. Look in the mentions of any public figure – particularly in the US – you’ll see an army of PR, bots, and troll farms trying to get that influencer to bite. They play dirty whilst nudging the needle …and we are simply collateral damage.
But there’s something far more sinister than a straight-forward ‘cancellation’.
This is where you need to understand how falling afoul of corporate (and political) interests is risky in the long term, because whilst cancellation can be lucrative, suppression… that’ll kill you. Sometimes literally.
Being ‘cancelled’ at a certain level is good for your career, and your numbers, and your wallet – if you’re willing to take that right wing dosh and lie about ‘the left’ for cash.
Being cancelled is the best case scenario.
But being suppressed is the real punishment that nobody talks about. Well, that we can see, anyway.
How does suppression work?
This is where things get tricky.
Social media algorithms generally exist to deal with problems of moderating at scale. Spam, bots, terrorism, cyberattacks, said troll farms etc. Without them, the internet would be 1000x more dreadful than it is. Twitter would be an absolute shitshow.
Algorithms are good things, when implemented well. They look at patterns to detect bad things, such as a cyber-attack, a massive dog-pile, spam or other sinister activity. They also look at patterns to address the troll farms and bots that I talked about above. Or at least, that’s the intention when not compromised by corporate and political interests and the aforementioned agencies doing dark and unethical shit.
Algorithms look for patterns and respond accordingly. Patterns of behaviour, language, interactions, and yes… who you are connected to in order to determine your level of risk.
A social score, if you will.
The most backwards compliment of all time.
It’s been a weird and interesting journey for me this last few years – going from being a Pied Piper, able to gather followers at-will and make anything travel online, to everything going – well, completely dead.
Like, tumbleweeds. Frozen follower count. Not getting notifications. Next to no engagement. Aside from the occasional troll farm account suggesting that nobody liked me and my mentions were tumbleweeds.GIF.
Admittedly, at first it was a bit of a mind fuck. Especially because a large part of my sense of self (and brand) has been my ability to ninja the fuck out of social media.
Until I suddenly couldn’t.
My Advertising Account was disabled, as was my Twitter Media account. My developer access was revoked, but on appeal reinstated. I appealed the Advertising & Media accounts, and they said it was because of swearing. At which point I nuked 30,000 tweets and asked them to reinstate. No answer from Twitter Business. Cough.
Initially it did have an effect on me. What did I say? What did I do? Have all my friends abandoned me? WTF why am I suddenly not getting followers or engagement? All these people who are far shittier than me get engagement… what the hell have I done?!
Like any rational or self-aware person, I assumed I had done something wrong. Talking about the gender wars, or swearing too much. There were things I could point to that might’ve been the cause. But I saw that others were doing so much worse – and it just didn’t add up. I was being unfairly throttled somehow, and mass reported, with zero support or understanding, and I simply wanted to know what I had done and how to fix it.
I assumed it was just me or something about me that I didn’t understand. That I am a horrible person and nobody likes me. That’s why nobody showed up to your 11th birthday and your mother doesn’t call.
Like I said, I am not a contrarian on purpose. I just give a shit.
See, the thing about these dark UX agencies is that they are effective at getting under your skin. They know what to say, how to say it, and most of the time, it works. They get paid to nudge people in whatever direction.
It worked, for a time.
Until people started to DM me asking me if I was okay because they hadn’t heard from or seen me recently. Even though I had been posting as-normal and despite those little dark thoughts creeping in occasionally, generally happy and carrying on as usual.
Well, not that weird if you understand how [actual, good faith] disinformation & radicalisation researchers track networks.
Turns out, through a series of circumstances and platform manipulations, I’m just influential and potentially dangerous. heh.
I have always been a little bit influential – never on purpose – but I straddle lots of different networks online. I’ve been on this thing for 28 years. And one thing I have always done extremely well is persuade and bring people along with me.
Initially when I started talking about the Gender Wars, I spoke up in support of Meghan Murphy. And I have said repeatedly how much I underestimated what the impact of that would be. But I can see how, from an unmanned-algorithm-and-three-kids-in-trenchcoat I am what is called highly fucking likely to be a cult leader. Technical term. Heh.
So when I started talking – like a moron – about the gender wars in good faith, and all this triggering of troll farms and bots and mass reporting and my general influence… and being connected to other influencers.
Unlike others, who exist mostly within their own networks, I straddle others. And the algorithms see all. They see the non-public relationships too. They see all. They see who I am really connected to – not just the ones that I make public.
So yeah, this is basically a long-ass post that tells you I’m suppressed because I am influential and meet a certain risk profile, and not necessarily because I am an arsehole. And it makes me feel weirdly good about things.
Yes, it’s shitty, because it means I can’t promote myself like I used to. It’s upsetting, because it wasn’t the deal, and there is no way to correct it. But it at least manages my expectations. And, more importantly, it means the trolls haven’t won, and I am the boss fight for all this shit.
Has the sun won?
But hopefully this makes you feel a little better, if you’re not getting the reach you used to, or feel you’re being suppressed. It’s likely the case, unless you actually are deliberately harassing or being a fuckwit – in which case, stop it. Because you’re dragging me down with you.
Till next time