Tag Archives: Twitter

Consequences of Freedom

I wasn’t going to use her name because I didn’t want her to get any more attention, but I feel quite strongly that if I sit here twiddling my thumbs and complaining to the couch cushions that that’s the same as condoning what she’s doing.

So here we go…

Until two days ago I had never heard of Jenny Trout. That’s actually a lie. I had heard of her but only in the context of a blog post by Chuck Wendig a couple months ago. He mentioned how he liked her blog (but didn’t agree with one of her positions). Aside from that, I couldn’t have told you two things about her.

Then, two days ago Anne Rice posted a comment on Facebook and Twitter about her support for the website Stop the GR Bullies (GR refers to Goodreads). It’s a website dedicated to calling out authors who bully other authors (for reasons other than a negative review, which I’ll take up in a future post). Anne’s comment was this:

If you click the image it will take you to Anne’s original Facebook post

Attached to this post was a link to an article on STGRB on Jenny Trout, who has taken it upon herself to become the self-appointed literary moral compass of the Internet.

The summary: a (once) best selling author is actively encouraging the banning and/or pirating of another author’s work.

STGRB does not link directly to Jenny’s website but there is a screen grab in their post that contains the URL. I typed it in manually and read Jenny’s article and two things happened:

  1. I felt sick for giving her the site traffic
  2. I gave her a very unflattering nickname. One I’ve been talked out of using for a variety of good reasons (as an aside, I have wonderful writer friends)

In her rant Jenny freely admits that she hasn’t even read this highly-offensive-it-must-be-banned book. She claims it is about the glorification of racism and rape and how this subject matter has no business on the shelves of your local bookstore or on the hard drives of your personal e-readers. It contains BDSM erotica (because that’s all the rage now, with Ms. Trout even penning titles under a pseudonym). It’s also about an actual President of the United States and his actual slave mistress. Oh, and in the book the characters are vampires and/or werewolves. And one more thing: this story is just one in a series with the same underlying characteristics: #BDSM, #erotica, #POTUS, #mistress, #vampires, #werewolves. (hashtag: not my thing).

Ms. Trout rightly points out that since the offensive work is protected under the First Amendment there is no legal recourse for removing the book from shelves (digital or otherwise) so she’s taken it upon herself to start a crusade.

She’s demanding her fans and readers demand Amazon, B&N, Kobo and the like remove this content immediately. If that doesn’t work, and you feel you absolutely must read this book, then go pirate it so at least the author and publisher don’t get any money. 

Um…. excuse me?

I wonder, what would Jenny Trout’s publisher think if another author from another house took issue with one of her books and started a campaign to pirate them?

Let’s be perfectly clear: racism and rape are bad. Together they comprise the Daily Double of humans at their absolute worst. However, in a free society, no one person / group / organization / government gets to take away the right for someone else to write about it – and by my assessment that’s exactly what Jenny is trying to do.

Express your displeasure with the book to your heart’s content. Tell people it’s not worth reading, that it’s a glorification of All Things Terrible, that they are bad people for even reading the synopsis. But don’t you dare go down the road of book banning. Book banning is half a step removed from book burning, and we all know what history (and Ray Bradbury) has to say about that, now don’t we?

Free speech does not mean you are free from the consequences of saying or writing things to which others object. For the book and author Jenny Trout saw fit to attack, the consequences will be determined by the reviews it receives, the number of sales, the number of future sales or publishing deals for the author (or lack thereof), and so on… The system is already set up to self-regulate in this regard. Time and reader response will tell.

As for Jenny Trout, her consequences appear to be the ostracizing of  a whole swath of readers (and probably publishers) that aren’t going to touch her books or her blog with a ten foot fishing pole – myself included.

~ Andrew

Rockin’ Robin (Tweet, Tweet)

I sometimes have a hard time titling my posts. Today’s was easy because I’m taking you back to the world of Twitter, and pretty much anyone in the Eastern part of North America is wishing for Spring. Hell, we’re practically begging for it. That first robin sighting will be a monumental event, and what do robins do? They tweet. At least the rockin’ ones do if you believe the Jackson 5.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4VCUbL7jsc?rel=0]

Okay, that’s enough of an explanation as to how I got the title for the post. Now on to the content!

Way back in May/June of 2011 I wrote a series of posts centred around social media – specifically Twitter. I had been on Twitter for a few years by then and still hand’t quite figured it out.

In all of this, however, I neglected to get to the actual key to Twitter effectiveness. Engagement. Now, in my defence, I was new. I was still amassing followers and followings. It wasn’t until I was following close to 500 people that I began to realize that the Twitter sea could be a cold and lonely (and useless) place unless you had some sort of system. So, I started using lists.

I had thirteen lists then. Today I have seven (including a mysterious “People Not in a List” list). A couple of familiar lists are still kicking around: “Writing” and “Community”, and yesterday I made a few observations:

So, I’ve covered how I got the title of this post, and now I’ve explained how I came to arrive at this topic for this week. I suppose the only thing that’s left is to get to the point.

The first observation was interesting because I don’t tend to pay attention to who’s following me (which is a partial lie because when I made this writer following-to-followed comment a couple years ago Margaret Atwood started following me on Twitter and to this day it makes me absolutely giddy). I find it interesting because I find writers are great at reciprocating the Twitter follow, more so than any other group of people, I think.

I started thinking about why that would be when I came across my second observation: self promotion. Look, I get it. We’re all trying to sell stuff, and with the state of publishing and self publishing being what it is competition is at an all-time high and royalties are at an all-time low. The problem I see with this is that it’s an awful lot of noise.

I don’t know about most people but I follow an awful lot of writers, most of them not well known, so I’m not sure the average Twitter user has the same view of things. One thing I do know though is that I’m way more likely to re-tweet or comment (engage!) when someone’s stream isn’t just a a constant flow of “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” Naturally, unless Tweeting is your full time job you can’t respond to everyone all the time – that’s just not a sustainable practice. You can, however, take a good look at who you’re following and what those people have to say and find out where you can add value to that conversation.

Hey, I’ve certainly been guilty of shameless self promotion on Twitter. If you were to check out my feed from the last year and a half you’ll see mostly links to photographs I took or blog posts and very little “other” stuff. It sucks, and I’m not proud of it. Which was my third observation, and the reason for this post. Now that my life is settling back into somewhat of a normal routine, I started thinking about how I wanted to start engaging more on Twitter and get back to the good old days when it was entertaining and informative. I hope you’ll all join me.

Finally, and this is probably the most important thing you’ll read all day:

Don’t be an asshole. 

It’s Oscar night and three years ago a friend and well respected member of the Toronto media, Neil Hedley, had some words for people tweeting insulting and bullying bullshit about movie stars on the red carpet at the Oscars. I wrote a post about thinking before you tweet that was well received. Last year a few actors even did a parody sketch on this as part of the opening segment. Regardless of how many people point out that slamming an actress for her body image amounts to bullying (and generally being an asshole) there will still be throngs of people who do it. Don’t be one of them.

~ Andrew

Happily Ever After

I love it when my muse just shows up unexpectedly. No call beforehand. No knock on the door. No need to pick up that pile of clothes in the corner or sweep the floor. It’s like having the best house guest in the world, and they come bearing gifts!

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and the urge to do any writing or editing has been at an all-time low. I finished a short novel for NaNoWriMo and took a couple weeks off in December and then found out that the date for my daughter’s scoliosis surgery would be January 20. Suffice it to say I have been a bit distracted ever since.

A funny thing happens when I’m doing nothing but trying to take my mind off something. I think of the strangest and most wonderful things. I suppose it’s a byproduct of an active imagination going into overdrive in an effort to shield itself from the scary, unknown, things that are keeping me up at night. That being said, I hadn’t had any new ideas worthy of pursuing for quite some time and it was starting to get on my nerves.

Then she showed up. My muse. And she was wonderful.

I had just finished seeing the movies The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. I had also just read the book Fahrenheit 451 and was working my way through Slaughterhouse Five when it hit me: the best idea for a novel I’ve ever had. In my mind it’s destined to be one of the best novels ever written, but for now let’s just say that it’s a good idea, and I am thrilled that it popped into my head when it did.

I quickly scratched out some notes and sent them along to a couple writer friends whose opinions I trust and asked them what they thought. I was pleased to hear that this would be a book they would read – and they weren’t just saying that because they were my friends. They’ve both given me direct feedback on excerpts that didn’t only contain praise. I gave my notes to a third person to look over and they verdict came back the same. Yay me! I had an idea that I was passionate about that, at least at first glance, had some from people living outside my head.

I figure I’ll start writing it when my daughter is in the hospital this week. I won’t have much else to do and while I’ll be contributing to the family scoliosis blog those posts won’t take me hours upon hours to write – and we’ll be spending full days and nights at the hospital for about a week! I figure I’ll get 10,000 words done if I keep off the damn Facebook and Twitter. The only obstacle I can see in front of me is the fact that I have absolutely no idea how the book is going to end.

I can envision a prologue and epilogue that bookend the story nicely but I can’t seem to dream up that last page. This is a strange feeling for me as I normally start with the end and then create all the things that needed to happen to get the reader to that last point. I thought I had the perfect ending and told one of my idea sounding board friends and she didn’t like it. Her husband did because it wasn’t a “standard” ending, and that’s probably why I liked it too – at least initially. Happily ever after endings drive me crazy. Sometimes people die, sometimes the bad guys get away with it, sometimes the boy doesn’t get the girl. The more I thought about it though, the more I was worried about what kind of message my ending would be sending.

This was also a strange feeling because to this point nothing I’ve written had any sort of message. At least nothing that I would consider profound or noteworthy. They are just bits of entertaining fiction meant to be enjoyed. Move along please, nothing to learn here. This new idea however has a message and one that I feel is rather important. How the main character ultimately relays that message to the reader, I think, will make a substantial difference in how that message is digested. Get it wrong and risk the reader becoming too focused on the actions of the main character instead of on the message she is carrying.

Maybe I’m over thinking it? Maybe I should just start writing and see where the story takes me? I’ve got a couple hundred pages to churn out before I hit the third act climax and have the MC realize their dramatic need (or not). Still, it doesn’t quite feel right. Not knowing how that last page unfolds is disconcerting. I guess I’ll spend some time thinking about the possibilities and jot them down with my other notes and see which one feels right.

One thing is certain, it won’t end with “and they all lived happily ever after”.

~ Andrew

Community

Welcome to NaNoWriMo Week #2!

At this point you’re either way ahead of the game and feeling good, on pace and still clinging to a sliver of hope that you can keep it up for 20 more days, or you’re behind schedule and looking at the chart on the NaNo website that reads: At this rate you will finish on March 13, 2016.

Regardless of which category you find yourself in I have something that can help.

Community.

No, not the show with Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs. Actual communities. It turns out these things are everywhere, and they’re all kinds of awesome. Communities, and more specifically the people that are a part of them, are worth their weight in gold, or diamonds, or even in some cases platinum-190.

These are the people, when you say, “I’m depressed” they mean it when whey ask, “Why are you depressed?” and when you respond, “I don’t know” they’re completely okay with that answer. They give you a hug and then ask you if you want to go get a slice of pizza. They’re not trying to fix you. They’re not trying to solve All The Problems. They are people who, when they see that you have the courage to ask for help, they help. They show up on your doorstep, or wherever else you need them to, simply because you asked.

Writing, which is largely a solitary exercise, can wreak havoc on a person mentally. No one else is going to get those words out of your head and onto the page. You’re on your own for that, I’m afraid. But that doesn’t mean you are alone.

http://i.imgur.com/t5UgvmR.gif

Twitter has dozens and dozens of hashtags you can search to find thousands of people, just like you, churning out words or looking for nuggets of encouragement, support, or distraction. During the month of November the number of hashtags and the number of people using them in tweets increases dramatically. Here’s a sampling of some I keep in mind whenever I need to feel less alone:

#NaNo
#wordsprint
#NaNoWriMo
#wordmongering
#amwriting

There are also a whack of Facebook groups out there for you to join. Just search NaNoWriMo or just about any search term related to writing. You’ll find groups aplenty, and then some. Join ’em all or just join one, but join something – and then participate. The number of people you will find for support and encouragement will blow your mind. 
I took it a step further and once I found a bunch of wonderfully diverse and supportive people on Twitter and Facebook and I invited them to a Facebook group of my own creation. We’re almost at 50 members now and it’s one of the best places there is to be when I’m working on my writing. 
You won’t find any of it unless you look up from your keyboard every now and then and ask. As with most things in life, if you don’t ask you won’t get. So buck up, swallow your pride, find your ouside voice, put up your hand… do whatever it takes to ask. Just ask. Ask. State it categorically: I need a friend. I need some help. I need some encouragement. I need some pizza!

Ask and ye shall receive.
(pizza delivery times may vary)

~ Andrew

Dumbing it Down

I’m having a hard time deciding if humanity is getting dumber. There are too many moments in the day where it looks like we know more but actually seem capable of less.

I can remember standing in front of the mirror. The old dual sided metal razor in my shaking hand. My father stood behind me and reached over my shoulder to help guide the blade around my chin.

“Remember to us long, smooth strokes…” he said. His voice cut through the silence and I flinched, sending the blade deeper into my skin. I watched as a brilliant red drop of blood trickled its way down. It fell into the sink, which was half filled with hot water, and the red splash dissipated into a cloud of brown wisps.

Image taken from my Andrew’s Alphabet collection

I also remember sitting in the backseat of a Dodge Omni. My mother was in the front passenger seat and my 16 year old sister was sitting behind the wheel.  My big sister, five years my senior, was learning to drive. Given the typical relationship struggles that occur between teenage girls and their parents, with the added bonus of a car crash on top of that, I was along for what I thought was going to be the best ride of my life.

“Ease up on the accelerator. Good. Indicate your turn. Good. Start to brake… slowly… there you go. Good.” My mother was a primary school teacher and had been doing yoga for about as long as I could remember. She had this patience and calmness in her voice that was made for situations like this. Everything my sister did amazed me and I vowed that I would learn to drive as well as she did. At least that was the plan until some years later a car accident tore the dependable little Omni in half. It wasn’t her fault, but sibling awe is fickle.

Image courtesy Bamman at en.wikipedia

We humans used to know how to do so many things. These little life nuggets would be passed down from generation to generation and there was a real sense of knowledge; of accomplishment; of pride in learning how to do something the way Mom or Dad taught us.

It seems that as our technology advances the information sharing across generations decreases. Just look up from your desk for a few minutes, or better yet conduct a job interview with a Millennial or a kid from Generation Y. It won’t take long to notice the sense of entitlement. It won’t take long before you receive a scornful glance that says, I’ve got more technology in the palm of my hand than there was in the entire hospital you were born in.

Fight the urge to verbalize your internal Churchillesque monologue that will be screaming In which I was born!, before thinking to yourself, And I was learning how to write code before you were even a glint in your parents eye. Before they got high and had three to many drinks while watching X-Files one Friday night, forgot the condom, and had an arrogant little shithead of a child pop out with a smart phone in his hand nine months later.

The copyright of this image belongs to 20th Century Fox.

It’s a Me Me Me, now now now world. Are Google and a collection of “how to” YouTube videos suitable replacements for passing down actual knowledge? What will become of us when there are no more “So-and-So & Sons” scattered down Main Street?

Even still, for every case where I see knowledge unnecessarily bleeding away I find a case where the world we live in is getting better. Racism, bigotry, hate… these are all things that are heading the right direction. The Me Me Me, now now now culture allows virtually instantaneous activism – globally. You tell two friends and they tell two friends, topics start trending, people start talking, and before you know it behaviours are changing.

I’ve seen bills proposed by the government of my country quashed before they were even tabled due to public outcry. Outcry that would not have been heard had it not been for the Me Me Me, now now now crowd and all their fancy new technologies, Twitters, and Facebooks. I don’t think I need to tell the people of Egypt what kind of impact this can have.

My parents never passed down any hatred while they were passing down tips on how to drive, shave, level a patio stone, cut the grass, hit a curve ball, block a shot, carry the 1, avoid splitting an infinitive, or turn the pot handle in – but – many other parents and leaders did, and continue to do so today. It reminds me of the “cut the ends off the roast” legend:

A young woman is making a roast for dinner and before putting the meat in the pan she dutifully cuts the ends off. Her husband, having seen her do this time and time again, finally asks, “Why do you cut the ends off like that?”

She replies, “That’s the way Mom taught me. Must have something to do with the way it cooks.”

The next time the couple was at the woman’s parent’s house for supper the husband asks of his mother-in-law, “Why do you cut the ends off the roast before you put it in the pan?” She replies, “That the way my mother taught me. It must have something to do with how it cooks.”

A short time later, Grandma arrives for supper and the man asks, “Why do you cut the ends off the roast before putting it in the pan? Does it have to do with how the roast cooks?”

“Heaven’s no,” she replied. “We often had to feed so many people the darn thing would never fit in the pan.”

Not everything that is known is worth sharing.

~ Andrew

Once Upon a Hashtag

LOL, OMG, SRSLY, #WTF

Between text messaging, social media, and dictionaries adding the most absurd “words” it is clear that the English language is changing at a torrid pace. If I’m being honest, I can say that I purposefully avoid anything to do with all this gosh darned newfangled hogwash poppycock. My text messages contain full words only interrupted by the occasional smiley face or ampersand (to convey a specific emotion or provide a more logical grouping of words) and the same goes for my social media posts.

Listen up: I’m a writer. If I can’t say it using Oxford English Dictionary words from before the year 2000 then I am failing miserably at my craft and should feel embarrassment and shame.

Keep in mind that I am also human, which means I am also imperfect. A quick search of my Twitter feed for the two most common non-words that are now words (LOL and OMG) came up with the following:

(The tweet at the top links to this particularly funny cartoon, the second tweet from the top is a conversation between myself and Christine Reid – that makes absolutely no sense to me today, the second from the bottom links to this old blog post of mine with a shout out to Wren Emerson, and the bottom tweet links to an old Hockey News article I dug up in my archives)

I think that’s a pretty damn good track record. Out of more than 7,600 tweets there are exactly 4 that use stupid acronyms (none in the last 18 months when, arguably, I started to get more serious about writing). If you’re into percentages, that’s somewhere around 0.05% I think I’m going to start creating badges to put on blogs and profile pictures:

Like anyone else I have my vices and whether it’s on Twitter or on Facebook I have a habit, an addiction really, to all things hashtag. Hashtags, as they kids are saying, are all the #rage.

For those not so well versed on the nuances of social media here is the definition from our friends over at Wikipedia:

Hashtag

hashtag is a word or a phrase prefixed with the symbol #.[1][2] It is a form of metadata tag
Short messages on microblogging and social networking services such as Twitter, Tout
identi.ca, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, Google+ or Facebook may be tagged by putting “#” 
before important words, as in: 

#Wikipedia is an #encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

Hashtags provide a means of grouping such messages, since one can search for the hashtag
and get the set of messages that contain it.

Well that clears that up.

It’s probably best to look at a few examples of what the hashtag provides in terms of added value. I took the liberty of doing a hashtag search on the most popular site for hashtags (Twitter) and one of the newest sites to start incorporating the hashtag (Facebook). Naturally the hashtag I chose to use as my search was #hashtag:

If you take even a cursory glance at the results you’ll be able to see that some people are using the hashtag #hashtag in their posts for no other reason than to have a hashtag in their post. I wonder if they think they’re being clever? #lame

So what’s wrong with just searching for any old word? Context. Not that there is a lack of context, but plain text searches tend to give you more of it than you need. The hashtag acts as a consolidator to group similarly contextual posts together so that not every one that contains that word shows up in your results (though Twitter will often return search results from all the other text in the tweet as well. #sigh)

For a while, Facebook refused to get on board the hashtag train. In fact, some people would get downright angry if you happened to drop a hashtag into a status update or comment. When it was introduced a few months ago there was a flood of hashtag use and I have to admit, even this hashtag lover was mildly #annoyed. What’s more, I did a quick check on searches for hashtags of a questionable nature on Twitter and Facebook and the latter is censoring their search results to a much higher degree (not cool, Facebook. Not cool at all.)

That aside, in my tweets and Facebook statuses, and yes even in the occasional text message (this is how you know you have a hashtag problem) I will continue to use, and advocate the use of, hashtags. Right or wrong, for better or worse, it’s the path I have chosen. #YOLO

As far as this post is concerned I just can’t take it any more, so I make this promise to you now: you won’t see any hashtags in future posts or formal writing of mine ever again. Never mind the fact that I won’t feel at all bad if someone catches me breaking my promise. That just means someone is actually reading my stuff, and I’m perfectly okay with that. Cleverness #FTW!

~ Andrew

SPOILER ALERT!

Every once and a while a TV show comes along that you really enjoy watching. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where, week after week, you can’t wait for the next episode. The one where your anxiety levels climb in the weeks leading up the final episode of the season because you know that it will be the last of the show for months. The one that you faithfully record so you can watch it uninterrupted, free from commercials or other distractions, and just enjoy as everything unfolds in front of you for the first time.

And then there are the inconsiderate jerkwads on the Internet – specifically Facebook and especially Twitter – who see fit to watch the show in real time, crappy commercials and all, and live-stream every plot twist and “oh my gosh” moment that happens. They will claim it’s all part of the new media experience and this allows them to enjoy the show at a whole new level with other inconsiderate jerkwads. Networks will encourage this with various “follow us on Facebook” and “follow this #hashtag” gimmicks in an effort to entice more people to watch as they try to pump more advertising at the audience.

For me, there have been a few shows where the former has been true. Sopranos was one, as was The West Wing. Lately, it’s a show called The Newsroom – which fortunately for me not a lot of people watch, so there’s not a tonne of chatter around it – yet. As for the latter, there’s only one show I took to this level and it was Survivor (please, don’t judge), and even then I was very careful about not revealing key moments or twists in my Internet commentary. You see, if you want to follow a show in real time and experience the complete new media experience there are rules to follow so you don’t end up being a jerkwad. Actually, there’s really just one:

Let the people who aren’t watching at that very second know that you’re about to ruin something for them.

It’s affectionately known as a spoiler alert, and it’s an easy rule to follow. It really is. The problem is that some people either can’t figure it out or don’t give a damn. Granted, it’s harder for someone on Twitter to comply than it is for someone on Facebook. Twitter is set up in such an instant gratification kind of way that if you want to express an emotion about what just happened on your favourite show you’re much more inclined to type “OMG I can’t believe they just killed What’s-His-Name! #FaveShow” than you are “OMG, I can’t believe what just happened! #FaveShow“. Even if you are more likely to lean toward the second statement I can guarantee that someone somewhere will reply within seconds “@YourUserName I know! What’s-His-Name was my favourite character! #FaveShow“.

Unfollowing someone on Twitter is a bit of a pain just so their spoiler tweets don’t show up in your timeline. Setting up lists and filters is also quite a cumbersome exercise. Fortunately, a teenage girl in the U.S. came up with a way to redact your Twitter feed to avoid those unsightly plot twists – and she’s going to release the app for free.

Things are a little easier on Facebook and as such I have less patience for those who refuse to show a little courtesy. You see, Facebook won’t show a whole post if it’s more than 420 characters long. Anything more than that and you read a “read more” link at the bottom. So, just prefix your post with

“SPOILER ALERT: [YOUR-FAVE-SHOW]
——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–“

Tell your spoiler-prone friends to do this. Tell them they can just cut and paste the example above and then proceed to type whatever the hell they want.

[Editor’s Note: 2015-12-22 – this app is no longer available]
Naturally, someone has taken the idea from our teenage hero from above and made it just a bit better. This is what happens with technology, especially apps, and the consumer is the ultimate winner. In this case, you can take matters into your own hands with Silencer. A Chrome extension that lets you “Take back the internet, on your terms”. Even better you can tell your friends to not be jerkwads in the first place and if they’re true friends you won’t need the link to Silencer. But just in case, here it is:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/silencer/liddmepmaofgllnbdbepbcgfgclcelno

~ Andrew

The Power of the Internet

I am fortunate enough to have experienced the creation of one of the greatest inventions of all time: the Internet. Granted, there were a whole lot of events that had to transpire over several decades before it became accessible outside of military or academic circles, but when it did… it’s hard to argue that it didn’t have a major impact on society.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia

Much like anything else it didn’t take long for the Internet to become commercialized. Rest assured (and if you read my last post this won’t come as a surprise) if there’s a newer/better/faster/easier way to sell you something then the people selling it are going take advantage.

Then something interesting happened. People started using the Internet for something that wasn’t commerce. Of course, traditional media outlets began (and continue) to use the Internet as a cheap and easy way to get your attention, driving you to their paid services and racking up page views to satisfy deep-pocketed advertisers, but ordinary people also started to use it to share their message. They quickly realized that there was the potential to reach a tremendous audience and in less than a decade the Internet became the greatest resource the world has ever seen.

As with anything that’s publicly available and unregulated you’re going to get quite a wide collection of individuals involved. The Internet user community is, unsurprisingly, just a reflection of society as a whole. One quick peak and you’ll find:

  • the innovators; 
  • the salespeople; 
  • the socially conscience; 
  • the clueless; 
  • the intellectual (and the intellectually deficient); 
  • the radicals; and of course, 
  • the liars and the cheats. 
If you need to put “fair & balanced” in your logo
I have news for you…

It’s not just corporations like FOX News that are in on the game either. Sometimes our cravings for attention and the insatiable need for our 15 minutes of fame take control, and sometimes the less honourable see an opportunity to take advantage of the good nature of others. If you’re on Facebook you have most certainly seen the posts. The ones where some tear-jerking picture is accompanied by some text that reads “If I get a million ‘likes’ then…” or “So and so or this and that needs your help!”

Some of these are undoubtedly true… and some most certainly are not. I choose to focus on the good. It takes a bit more energy but the end result is worth it (my favourite sources of truth are currently Snopes and Skeptophilia). With just a little bit of research and minimal digging the same Internet that brings you the lie also brings the lie and the people behind it to light. Just as easily, the Internet can be used to affect positive change, and as it turns out there are more people out there using their powers for good instead of evil.

I firmly believe in the power of the Internet and all of its social media sub-components. Aside from allowing everyday folks like myself to have a voice, it can bring people together and affect change like never before.

Just ask Egypt.

~ Andrew

Media Feeding Frenzy

I have a Twitter account. You can see the feed just to the left of this post. It’s 100% public and anyone with access to the internet can see every Tweet I’ve sent (all 7,300+ of ’em). You won’t see anything terribly salacious though as I have implemented some strict rules over the last couple years; the two biggest being: no f-bombs and nothing derogatory/defamatory toward an individual. In other words, try as often as possible to use my nice words and don’t make it personal. In spite of this, you have no reason to believe that anything I post is even remotely true and because of that I do my best not to give you any reason to doubt me.

When I see tweets out of context that (in my opinion) cross some lines I mostly just ignore them. I certainly can’t be the defender of everybody on the Internet, nor do I want to be, but when one or more of my friends is involved I tend to take notice. This happened recently and until I was able to gain access to the appropriate context things looked pretty crazy, like something out of a fake news magazine. However, I got the appropriate context and have since chosen to stay the heck out of it and let the system and people directly involved do what they do. I just wish that proper context had been made available along with all the other tweets that were being tossed around.

I’ve written about being careful about what you tweet before and in today’s world of instantly mass distributed information it’s more important than ever for people to be cautious about what they publish. Sadly, most do not. Instead, they just get angry, type, and press send. You may have noticed that news outlets tend to lag when it comes to the release of information. This is because they are supposed to have a little something called journalistic integrity. They are supposed to fact check and double, sometimes triple verify before publishing. Supposedly, they require proof, but we all know that not every news outlet has the same definition and not every one goes about obtaining it the same way (or at all in some cases). As a friend pointed out to me recently, “your credibility and integrity are directly tied to the media organization who signs your checks.” I had made a reference to The Toronto Star in comparison to FOX News and we were speaking of course on the recent scandal that has rocked the mayor’s office in Toronto.

There used to be a clear difference between an organization operating completely above board and one of lesser integrity. It used to be really easy to differentiate between The Toronto Star and FOX News. After what I’ve seen over the past 10 days I’m sad to report that it’s not so easy any more. As far as I can tell, once the Rob Ford story broke every media outlet in Canada (and some in the U.S.) started behaving like someone on Twitter with no followers, tweets with links to questionable websites, and an egg for a profile picture.

If I was able to draw, there’d be a picture of Rob Ford in the ocean with a bunch of shark fins circling him, each one with the name of a media outlet tattooed on it (the largest fin being the Toronto Star). There’d be a dude in a life raft looking all shipwrecked and scraggly and holding binoculars. On the side of his boat would be “S.S. Gawker”. Until I can take some art lessons, this will have to do:

There’s a certain irony to me utilizing an image stolen from FOX in this post

Listen, I’m not a Rob Ford fan. I’ve shamefully made a comment or two at his expense this week. A good many people, however, have done a lot more than just crack a joke, and with less evidence than there was to support the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

At least I will give Mr. Ford the benefit of the doubt:

No proof = didn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also not a fan of any jerk who abuses power and uses money and influence to do nefarious, morally reprehensible, or illegal things. But is this what it has come to? Has the rest of the world given up on demanding proof? Has the age of instant information whet our appetite to such a degree that we have finally shifted the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused?

I certainly hope not, but more and more it’s looking like that’s the direction it’s headed.

Welcome to the Court of Twitter:
Trial by Internet with traditional media judge presiding over a jury of your social media peers; thumbs hovering over the send button and salivating at the thought of hanging the accused in 140 characters or less.

~ Andrew

When Make Believe Is All That Remains

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
– Richard Feynman

I’ve mentioned in a previous post the one of the benefits of being a writer is you get to make stuff up. There is a serious problem, however, when wordsmiths of a different kind resort to making stuff up a tad more often than they should. I’m speaking of the scientists, the government, and the media – the ones who synthesize, distill, and report findings; who direct funding for research and make policies; and who relay information to the masses.

When Canada voted against science I was right there standing up and crying foul. Like many others my initial impulses had me all a Twitter (and a G+ and a Facebook). This is an outrage! Will no one come to the defence of science? At the very root of my anger is my belief that objectivity and truth still exist and not enough people are fighting for them.

I turned almost immediately to Gordon Bonnet, who, along with being a science teacher down in the States, also writes a great blog called Skeptophilia. In a matter of hours he turned around a much less knee-jerk response with the message that data, in of itself, cannot have an agenda. The problem is politicians and media outlets do, and I would assert that out of self-preservation (and the fact that they are human) scientists have one as well. However, the scientific agenda is normally kept in check through critique and review by one’s peers. When that process gets handcuffed, well, all bets are off.
“The only thing worse than a blind believer is a seeing denier.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
A friend with whom I like to debate such matters pointed out that “the human soul is corruptible.” Indeed it is, but that’s a sociopolitical discussion for another day. He also pointed me to this Maclean’s article which happens to be a a very level-headed take on things. The author, Julia Belluz, sums it up by suggesting that scientists raising a stink in the form of 60’s style protest aren’t doing themselves any favours, and on this I have to agree. 
Everybody involved appears to be approaching it all wrong. I am left to wonder though, if that’s the wrong way, what the hell is the right one? As the maxim goes, if insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then what happens when you’ve tried every approach you can think of and still nothing changes?

It seems that people on both sides of any argument go though this eclectic transition of approaches. The precise order and length of each one is impossible to determine, but the following popped into my head as a plausible chain of events: 
  • Start with the presentation of pure facts. 
  • If that doesn’t work, involve your peers to provide supporting information and try to open a dialog. 
  • If that doesn’t work, then compare and contrast opposing ideas in the form of debate. 
  • If that doesn’t work, then start removing facts and bring in “expert opinion” and hype. 
  • Finally, if that doesn’t work, resort to pure, unadulterated propaganda and rhetoric. 
  • If all else fails simply resort to sarcasm and ridicule (enter social media).  

This is pretty much where we’re at right now, and quite frankly I think this tailspin makes a complete mockery of it all and just ends up dragging everyone down to the same subhuman level, leaving slander and lies as the only pieces left on the board.

“The great thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
Maybe I’m naive to expect more out of professional conveyors of information, but when it’s all reduced down to a contest over who can out crazy who it makes you wonder if the people who make stuff up for a living aren’t the sanest group in the whole lot.
Next election I’m voting for a writer.
~ Andrew