So, you want to send a friend request?

argument-1299108_640Facebook has this little “intro” segment you can fill in on your profile. If you’re even remotely garrulous you’ll feel just how small it is. You basically have room for a conservative sentence or maybe two.

If you wanted to use the opportunity to set boundaries, you’d be hard pressed to do more than just ask people not to be jerks. Sometimes you’ll have more to say than that. Owing to weirdos on social media, too often I find myself feeling precisely this way. Maybe it’s the same for you too.

So this is possibly how you’ve wound up reading this post. I’ll be sending others this way in future, too.

Like most people I don’t use Facebook automation. And I’ve been shy of accepting new friend requests for some time now. In fact I’ve blocked most of the people who’ve sent me requests in the past four years.

I’ve been thinking of opening things back up again, only this time without setting myself up to have to repeat myself each time nonsense flairs up. Hence this post.

***

For some reason I don’t get shouted at much anymore. I’m not sure why. Deep down among the minutiae of any number of topics, I hold what could be construed as controversial views – the kinds of things I’ve seen numerous other people scolded for. I’m good friends with more than one of the scolded. None of this has been secret.

A number of us conform to a particular pattern within the category of “politically homeless”; left-wing values; a disinterest in left-wing tribalism; an unwillingness to seek a new tribe in either the right or the reactionary center; a respect for critical inquiry and a willingness to commit to what and wherever that inquiry leads.

But oh. The kinds of friend requests this can encourage. If only I could stave some of them off with a few more words of warning, or at least lay down some ground rules in advance.

The moment you become politically homeless, suddenly you’re the potential ally… of weirdos.

Criticize the Clinton dynasty; get Bernie Bros and Jill Stein cultists crawling up your ass. Shine a light on the worst naivetes of little-l liberalism; wind up with a New Best Friend who thinks conspiracy theories about Monsanto are the apex of radicalism. Condemn Likud; get a friend request from the asshole with Rothschild memes running down their timeline. Criticize some technical or civic aspect of anti-racism politics; wind up with the racially-paranoid white guy who thinks you’re “just like” him in an imaginary shared oppression. Point out the mere existence of misogyny or homophobia in Islam; wind up with an acolyte of the Q-Society spruiking their crap at you.

Do anything remotely resembling courting controversy in good faith, and you’ll attract contrarians with delusions of Galileohood.

“I SOLVED ALL OF POLITICS WHILE HUFFING LEAD FUMES IN MY SHED!!1! MALCOLM ROBERTS WAS RIGHT ABOUT SOCIALISM!”

Of course it’s not just the weirdos drawn in by controversy or subculture membership or whatever else. Your friends can always argue among themselves and sometimes poorly; misunderstand each other; jump to conclusions about each other’s motives and so on. And of course, with each salvo you’ll get the pleasure of yet another social media notification.

Friends arguing with friends is fine. Friends using your space to burn each other down is not. Finding yourself politically homeless can leave you wide open in this respect, and it’s a good deal harder to manage when it goes off; you can’t always dismiss this kind of thing as easily as you can the anti-fluoride trolls.

***

Here’s the deal, then.

The odds are that a good number of the people on my friends list are people that I trust more than you. This won’t change just because on some specific points I may agree with you more than I agree with them.

As of writing, most of the people on my friends list have had the opportunity to demonstrate that while not perfect, they have, on balance, preferred to act in good faith. In the instances where they’ve opted to be pissy, they’ve opted to be pissy somewhere other than on my timeline and I respect that.

By accepting your friend request I’m not obligating myself to be your pal, much less your ideological underling. I’ve been accused of being “tuned in” or “with it” before, but I’m not making any promises. And it’s only my small neck of the woods anyway. It’s not like my antics are derailing discussion on the page of some important cause.

Just because I’m political doesn’t alter the fact that my personal space is not an organ of your political campaign. I’m not ceding you that much. I wouldn’t cede that much to my best friend.

While you’re commenting on my timeline, be as critical as you want of a given school of thought, only, try not to be condescending, or to presume authority if you haven’t even bothered to do your homework. (In fact, presuming authority even if you have done the readings isn’t particularly endearing – nobody likes that douche).

A lot of my closest friends are people who read and who’ve been reading for a long time. Spurious quotations of political authors you clearly haven’t read yourself probably won’t end well, and I’ll not rescue you from your embarrassment. (Yes “intersectionalists”, I’m looking at a lot of you).

Sass is fine. Sarcasm and satire are welcome. Abuse is not. Vex is not.

You can call a fascist a fascist, but don’t cry wolf about it on my wall. Radical feminists are not Nazis, “Nazi adjacent” or any kind of fascist.

Be as critical as you want of the idea of gender, but save insults like “tranny” for somewhere else. No matter how just the specifics of a given dispute you’re fighting may be, it’ll never make my timeline a space for vindictiveness.

And yeah, some things are always going to be out-of-bounds.

If you’re an anti-vaxxer, anti-Semite or flat-Earther; please just go away. Believers in Satanic conspiracy theories can catch the same bus.

Angry at women? Bye.

I may be vegan, technically, but that doesn’t mean members of any of the various vegan cults out there are people I respect.

“Gary Yourofsky has just been misunder…”

“Actually, PETA are…”

Bye.

Paleo-cultists can keep their pseudo-science and cod-anthropology to themselves as well.

If you’ve got five thousand friends, or you’re desperately aiming for that target, I’m probably very much not interested in your stuff either. I’m probably going to ignore you after I accept your friend request. No offense meant, but really…

Would-be public figures and artists who present as activists: by default I trust you less than the average person. Accept it. Or don’t. Just don’t complain to me about it.

And if you don’t like any of it, you don’t have to send me a friend request in the first place.

***

Fortunately a good number of people get this. It’s not always so glum, even on social media. It’s just there are narcissists out there in this world who view social media as their own stalking grounds, who will spoil things for others if given half the chance.

I don’t intend on giving them that much.

~ Bruce

Contemplating other hosts

As a rule, I don’t try to out the personality behind a pseudonym. Anyone still reading who can recall the days of Iain Hall versus (then) “Anonymous Lefty” know which side I was on. My sympathies haven’t changed terribly much, even if the specifics may have a little.

By default I also don’t really care about remembering or revisiting the birthnames of transgender people, and further, regard this matter as independent from the ontology of gender and/or sex, and hence of even less fundamental importance. There are no more innately male or female names than there are innately male or female colours or clothes. There are just gender conventions, and these should be optional.

“Jane”, for example, is a perfectly okay name for a guy, and if some fella had the awful misfortune to be named “Jayden”, “Nigel” or “Moonchild” by his parents, then I’m not going to begrudge him the change of name. The civics of this are obviously generalizable to include the name changes of transgender individuals.

(This is entirely separate to the psychology of changing name, which often seems comparable to the psychology of personalized number plates – something for the most part done by people altogether too self-regarding.)

So the rule stands – I’ll default to post-transition names, and nom de plumes, and pseudonyms and aliases and avatars and so on.

It’s not a rule without exception, though, and what I want to do in certain cases runs up against what is apparently new WordPress policy.

For those who don’t know, the “Gender Identity Watch” blog (among others) was bumped from WordPress some time back, initially being locked-out and thereby unable to download their own content to port elsewhere (the owners of WordPress.com, Automattic eventually relented and handed over the archives). The justification given, ad hoc, was that “deadnaming” was done, and that “deadnaming” was a violation of the Terms of Service. This will set a precedent, of course, and it’s also open as to whether or not the concept of “deadnaming” can be generalized beyond the transgender context, to include other folks who don’t use their birth names (“Hey! How dare you use my High-Security Prison Name!?!?”). That, and whether or not WordPress will one day, out of the blue, adopt such extrapolations as ad hoc policy after shutting down yet more blogs.

The given concern expressed by WordPress alludes to the idea that deadnaming (and misgendering) precipitate suicide attempts, something that unlike the consequences of say the denial of medical options for transitioning (in certain cohorts), I’m quite sceptical of. This belief appears to me to be commonplace manners, elevated to idée reçue, elevated to sciencey-sounding Internet folk wisdom, direly in need of some seriously rigorous investigation. Suicidality is serious after all, and it wouldn’t be the first time activist-pushed-beliefs have turned out to contradict best practice. Whether or not the given concern is even the actual concern though, is itself another matter entirely – one which I won’t be getting into.

That’s the current context, but what’s my exception to the rule, given that my general rule is still not to “deadname” or otherwise refer to people by names other than those they comment under?

Simply, I don’t respect the nom de plumes, aliases or pseudonyms of people who are abusers. If you write under a new or false name in the comments, abusing me or someone else, my instinct will be to use the name most commonly associated with your track record should you have one.

If for example, I feel the need to out an abuser in the comments, I reserve the right to do it, and assert that by commenting in the first place participants agree to these terms. This is generalizable to a cross-media context as well – if someone has been abused on Facebook, or Twitter, or in the print media, or the local Town Hall meeting, and it’s relevant to discussion here, I reserve the right. (Obviously, I don’t limit this to the mentioned context of transgender politics, it’s just that this is the case that’s recently raised the concern).

Here’s a few examples of the kinds of exploits I’m talking about that you’d probably want to avoid:

  • “But, I’ll commit suicide if you associate me with my past of sending rape threats to women online!”
  • “But if you associate my current abusiveness with my track record of abusiveness, I’ll get death threats from the Southern Baptist Church of Deaththreatology, who as a not-even-tangential side-note, are still a factor here! I’m the victim!
  • “But if you invoke my status as a registered sex offender and sender of dick pics by using my old name, you’ll be associating sex offending with the social group I’ve since publicly cozied up to!”

The first is emotional blackmail. The consequences of someone else sending rape threats are their own to deal with. If that kills them, it’s just something else horrible they’re responsible for. Don’t be gaslighted into thinking the duty of care for any given random abuser is yours – even if genuine it’d be a special case of suicidality, not the norm. You’re not their nurse.

The second is blame shifting. The initial abuse and the mentioned death threats are the responsibilities of other parties. You may very well play it careful for the sake of practicality, but this shit being brought to your door is not your fault.

The third is holding a social group – usually a minority – as hostage. Consider someone who’s been nabbed for being a sex pest while Pentacostal in the US, who’s then “reformed”, changed their name, moved to Kenya and become a Humanist who pesters women and children at conferences.  “DON’T OUT ME! THINK OF WHAT THIS ATTENTION WILL DO TO THE STANDING OF KENYAN HUMANISTS! AND THINK OF WHAT THIS WILL DO TO THE LOCAL GAY COMMUNITY! THEY’LL BE DRAGGED INTO IT TOO!”

If you’ve been around the traps long enough, and your eyes haven’t sealed-over in disgust, this kind of cynicism won’t seem entirely alien to you. Most people aren’t like this, and most of your interactions won’t be like this unless you’re very unlucky, or just happen to work with assholes for a vocation*. But when people do pull this bullshit, which happens on occasion, and if you’re running a page or a blog, you’ll want to have options available, including, but not limited to, being able to associate them with their track record to give context to something happening in the here and now.

In a practical sense, this often involves the use of their birth name, either directly, or by reference. This is not wrong for you to do, and unless you’re exceedingly gratuitous to the point of abusiveness, or use it as a means of deliberate incitement to violence, the abuser holds responsibility for any negative consequences they suffer as a result. Feel free to blame them.

This position won’t make WordPress happy, though. My understanding is that the ban on this kind of thing is categorical. So be it.

I’ll comply for as long as I have to, but I won’t like it. I’ll reserve the right, and keep that right in reserve until I can use it without the threat of ridiculous consequences.

If WordPress doesn’t change course on this, then I guess I’ll have to find a new digs elsewhere at some point. My disposition towards Twitter isn’t entirely dissimilar, incidentally.

~ Bruce

* Admittedly, this probably describes everyone who has to use Facebook or Twitter as a part of their work.

Waves of humanity

The blogosphere and social media have both been around for some time now, and if you’re like me, you’ve seen waves of readers, interlocutors, content creators, friends, acquaintances and so on, come and go via these technologies. A small few friends you’ve made will remain close – not that you hold them there against their will – but there’s a level of social transience that you need to become accustomed to.

On Facebook, I’ve become a big fan of unfriending people I haven’t had meaningful associations with. Not the big, grandiose “I’m unfriending” announcement, with a ticker tape parade complete with brass section. Just the quiet, unceremonious variety. Whatever it is that social butterflies get out of “likes” and “friendings” subjectively – the giddies or a certain kind of buzz – eludes me. And I don’t think I’ve so much as sent a friend request in years. Certainly not an unsolicited one.

There is an exception. Beyond the more meaningful associations, I try not to unfriend genuinely kind people, even if we haven’t had that much to do with each other. Maybe we’ll hit it off eventually. But beyond that I like to keep things minimal.

I’ve recently had a short chinwag over Facebook messenger with a pre-Facebook Internet friend, talking about old times on the blogosphere and the like. Oddly enough, we became Facebook friends on the same day as another mutual and he became friends – only humorously, that mutual friend is one of the very people I’ve since blocked. So it goes.

So yeah, then there’s blocking: Unfriending’s more decisive cousin.

There’s a risk in wondering too much about what the blocked may make of you, and their being blocked. If not leaving you emotionally vulnerable to them via other modes of communication (like the 20+ text messages you wake up to the next morning), it can make leave you open to be played by mutual acquaintances. Not that anyone’s actually tried this with me, it’s a pathetic sight to see people often unwittingly recruited into pestering someone on behalf of another who’s been blocked.

As is often the case these days, I manage to dodge this stuff, and comment on it only after after it’s struck friends. I don’t give the benefit of the doubt nearly as much I used to, and I don’t doubt my character assessments as much for there to be as much benefit either. (It’d be nice to say my suspicions over the years have been proven wrong even a third of the time, but alas.)

Still, you do meet less people this way – unfriending the not-really-friends, blocking the nastier sorts, and overall being a bit wary about accepting friend requests in the first place when you feel no need to have a large number of friends (again, outside marketing cynicism, why would you need this?)

Over the past week or so, though, I’ve been given pause. A smart, sincere lefty woman who socialized among mutual friends died recently. A woman I’d only had the occasional light interaction with – liking the same cat photo, that kind of thing. By all accounts she was loved and is sorely missed. Also, it seems as if we probably would have hit it off well – others have remarked as much.

I literally have very little idea of what exactly I missed out on, in terms of social exchanges, but my policy of withdrawal clearly has a drawbacks.

Reflecting on some of the blockings draws me back to my original position, though. For the most part, while nobody’s been horrid to me, even when I’ve invited them to be, the kinds of people who do get nasty or show all the warning signs, do generate a lot of mental din.

Keep certain types of behaviours at a distance and the fog in the mind clears. You realize it wasn’t all in your head, that you weren’t out of order. Maybe over time you even learn a little more about what was really going on behind the off behaviour, and wish you’d cut ties sooner.

This is the dilemma, though. Sure, when you let the tide of humanity recede you get a bit of space to think, you feel like yourself again, your values re-assert themselves more strongly and you gain a bit of perspective. But the outgoing tide takes with it waves of opportunities to get to know people – people you may have really worked well with – leaving you with whoever’s left in your little rockpool of a social circle.

A valuable little rockpool for sure, but small all the same, and one more or less isolated from oceans of human beings you’ll never know.

Finding a balance isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to be certain about such things. Apparently I’m supposed to be good at it, but I have no measure to judge by and neither do the people who tell me, so I couldn’t say – and therefore am of limited use to you in this respect.

Your space is your space and you can manage it how you see fit, or at least, you should be allowed to. We are in a sense, alone in working our way through this.

~ Bruce

Dear Facebook Friend…

Last month, in writing the post ‘If you’re not trolling, and you’re not a bigot, you’ve no reason to ‘like’ “The Mind Unleashed”’, I mentioned that in response to the mentioned woo, conspiracy theory, and anti-Semitism laced Facebook page, people could…

‘Encourage your friends who subscribe to the page to do a little digging for themselves, instead of passively being spoon-fed. Crap like that spread by “The Mind Unleashed” only does as well as it does because the practice of being spoon-fed advice is so well accepted.’

…and that possibly (as a last measure on Facebook)…

‘you explain to “The Mind Unleashed” subscribing friends, why you take anti-Semitism and bigotry seriously, and that this is why you are ‘unfriending’ them. Then proceed to ‘unfriend’ them.’

These will still be options for some folks, should they wish to do so. However what I want to do now is provide people with an alternative; a short, prepared letter they can use to copy, paste and send to their Facebook friends. Not everyone is up for fully confronting people about these kinds of things, and for some, having a proxy do the arguing may ease some of the pressure.

All you have to do, if you want to use this letter, is copy the bit after the separator below, and paste it into a message to the friends you want to reach.

You don’t have to link back to this post. You don’t have to mention any kind of intellectual property rights (I cede all copyright) or mention my name. You can use my name as it appears at the end of the letter if you want, or you can replace my name with your own and alter the content accordingly. Whatever makes it easiest for people to get the message across is best.

(I do insist though, if you substantially alter the letter, that you sign off with your own name).

The letter follows.

***

Continue reading “Dear Facebook Friend…”

If you’re not trolling, and you’re not a bigot, you’ve no reason to ‘like’ “The Mind Unleashed”…

It’s gone off like a pig in a cake shop; the amount of ‘likes’ the viral Facebook page, “The Mind Unleashed”, has attained (currently around two and a half million, with oodles of shares and likes – marketing manna from heaven!) Like many other viral Facebook pages, it lures people in with affirmations, platitudes of dubious worth, plagiarised conspiracy theorist memes, and dangerous medical misinformation served up as wisdom.

The target audience is the superficially-leftish end of the spectrum; the well-meaning but politically naive, and those who just don’t like to see the underdog kicked; from people who haven’t had the opportunity to acquire genuine critical thinking and/or research skills, to the histrionic-sanctimonious; the aspiring George Galloways; the would-be-cult-leaders.

I have a special loathing for the piece of disinformation, beloved of “The Mind Unleashed”, and oft repeated without reference to anything other than anecdote, that cannabis can cure cancer. Aside from anecdote never being a good basis for medical advice, this rubbish is just plain wrong, and could encourage people with cancer to disregard sound medical advice from oncologists. People have already been killed by this kind of thing.

This may be sinister, but it’s not this sinister aspect of “The Mind Unleashed” that I want to draw attention to.

The sinister aspect of “The Mind Unleashed” I want to address belongs to the general category of being-overtly-shit-to-members-of-social-groups. “The Mind Unleashed” is anti-Semitic. To be on board with “The Mind Unleashed”, is to enable the hatred of Jews.

I trust that at least some new-age-type-folk may object to such hatred.

***

Continue reading “If you’re not trolling, and you’re not a bigot, you’ve no reason to ‘like’ “The Mind Unleashed”…”