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  • A Twitter Toxic-Asshole Filter

    Posted on July 28th, 2013 Mark Bennett No comments

    Caroline Criado-Perez received threats of murder and rape on Twitter because of her successful campaign to get the face of a woman other than the Queen on a British banknote.

    50 threats an hour for twelve hours.

    It seems to me that this is a problem.

    Peter (@pme2013 on Twitter) runs through and discards a few options1 for fixing this problem before proposing a £5 registration fee2

    There’s a solution to this problem without changing Twitter itself. If there are a significant number of people who would pay for a safe network, a safe network can be created for those people by an algorithm built into a Twitter client app.

    For example, if a Twitter client had a feature to show only Tweets from people you follow on Twitter you wouldn’t have to hear from the toxic assholes if you didn’t want to3. If someone who followed you tried to communicate with you, you would simply not see it.

    But that would limit your ability to find new people to follow, since you would have a closed system.4

    A refinement would be to show only Tweets from people you follow, or people the people you follow follow—”contacts of contacts.”5 The algorithm could be stretched to multiple degrees of separation (“show me tweets only from a) people I follow; b) people they follow; c) people they follow; and d) people they follow”).

    But you shouldn’t have as much confidence in people you don’t follow not to follow toxic people.

    The algorithm could also weight the degrees of separation: count each first-degree contact (someone you follow) as 1, each second-degree contact (someone a first-degree contact follows) as 1/2, each third-degree contact as 1/4, and so on, and require a minimum score before that person’s tweets get through to you.

    Many people don’t want to see tweets from new accounts with egg avatars and no followers. The Twitter app could include each of those criteria as an optional rule: Account created within last n hours? Don’t show its tweets. Egg avatar? Ditto. No followers? The same.

    No Twitter client that I know of implements this sort of broad timeline filtering. The programming would be trivial. If there’s a market for it, let it happen.


    1. block the assailants, make Twitter monitor for abuse, charge an annual Twitter subscription fee 

    2. that’s a Churchill, not one of Criado-Perez’s £10 Austens)) to open a new account on Twitter.

      Others have proposed a one-day Twitter “boycott.” In response, Dr. Brooke Magnanti (@bmagnanti) writes:

      The proposal of “leaving twitter to the trolls” by not tweeting ironically demonstrates the very thing most people who get the ‘troll’ label are actually trying to point out: that some voices are a lot stronger than others. Opinion formers marching off in a huff is really a power show by those who, even if they were to leave Twitter for good, are still assured the media attention and platform they always have had and will continue to have.

      A Twitter Boycott is silly, as is trying to force Twitter to police messages. This is not a Twitter problem. Twitter works exactly as it should.

      This is, rather, a toxic-asshole problem. People should be able to express their views on Twitter, and get feedback, without being subjected to threats of violence.

      If Criado-Perez gets a death threat and blocks the sending account, the user of that account will not be able to send her another death threat through that account. But the threatening user can, in a matter of seconds, create another account and send another threat, and keep it up all day. Peter’s £5-per-account solution is directed at making it costly for the assailant to do so.

      But Criado-Perez has already received a death threat; the harm is done.

      So we want a method by which Criado-Perez, or anyone else, may avoid messages from people who mean to threaten harm.

      According to Peter, “Caitlin Moran has suggested she would happy to pay £30 a year to have a ‘safe network’ in place of the existing Twitter.” You could create a safe network for free by only communicating with people whom you already know will treat you with respect. But that group of people would be much smaller than the global reach of Twitter. I doubt that many of those who would pay for a “safe network” would be willing to give up Twitter’s potential to reach out to vast numbers of complete strangers.

      But if you communicate to many strangers, some of them are going to be toxic assholes. It’s unavoidable. ((The problem is not that toxic assholes are reading your stuff. It’s that you are reading their responses. 

    3. Because if you didn’t want to hear from toxic assholes you wouldn’t be following them 

    4. Sort of the inverse of a locked account. 

    5. You’d be relying on the judgment of the people you follow not to follow anyone too toxic. 

  • In Which It Is Said That Attribution is Desirable

    Posted on August 3rd, 2010 Mark Bennett 9 comments

    I wrote an aside at Defending People about the growing trend in the blawgosphere of lawyers criticizing other lawyers’ ideas without naming the other lawyers.

    It was, perhaps, unfair or inaccurate for me to call the practice “passive-aggressiveness.” I don’t know what motivates lawyers—I named Scott Greenfield, John Kindley, Jamison Koehler, Norm Pattis—who are increasingly referring to ideas without naming their authors (for example, Greenfield: “Plenty of people with . . . peculiar political views that color their idea of what it means to be a criminal defense lawyer”; Kindley: “what doubly offends RCDLs is that I suggest this while having a tiny fraction of the experience they do actually defending those accused of committing crimes”; Koehler: “the debate quickly moved past a discussion of the merits of the issue to a debate on the respective qualifications of people to engage in the debate itself”; Pattis: “Kindley has been criticized for aspiring to a Bugliosi-like posture”). Greenfield accepts the description with good grace; Kindley explains why he didn’t engage Greenfield directly; Koehler is busy writing about his fantasy football league and wondering, “And these are working lawyers? Where do they ever find the time?” And Pattis writes in favor of not attributing ideas with which we disagree:

    But I don’t want law blogging to become the equivalent of Sam Adams Jr.’s tantrum: Issues matter to me; personalities don’t. There’s a nasty trend among bloggers to engage in ad hominem tripe: John Kindley of People v. State just got mobbed. He wrote a contrarian’s piece about justice and criminal law. What followed were comments about his profile on his webpage, etc. This is tedious grammar school antics. Sure, it’s fun to huff and puff and finger point at one another. But to what end?  Writers, like trial lawyers, are mere vehicles for the messages they convey: personalities rarely matter. If someone writes something I think ill founded, it is far less aggressive, whether passive or not, simply to disagree, than it is to advertise his or her error more effectively.

    This is the pundit’s view: that attributing error is “aggressive.” (Because the pundit is the ultimate authority, such that all discussion ends with him?)

    As a blogger, you should, attribute. You should attribute the thoughts with which you don’t agree as well as the thoughts with which you do. You should name the thinker, and you should link to the thought (possible exceptions exist for hate speech and other obnoxious attention-seeking).

    Why? There are four reasons.

    You should attribute for yourself. Citing without attribution invites sloppy writing and exaggeration, if not flat-out fabrication. As Pattis, above: “What followed were comments about his profile on his webpage, etc.” Really? What comments? Where? By whom? I’ve been following the discussion, and I haven’t seen it. I’m not teaching expository writing 101 here, but the passive voice encourages lax thinking, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

    You should attribute for your readers.
    They should not have to take your word for what other people have said. Links are optimal, but if you’re unwilling to link, naming the speaker allows your readers to discover for themselves the words that were said, and their context.

    Koehler, for example, says that poor Kindley is a victim, “left to defend himself on the basis of his age and experience” Okay, what has required him to defend himself on that basis? What was said that left him to defend himself on that basis? By whom, when, and where? Was it “you don’t have much experience, and therefore you’re wrong”? Was it “you’re wrong, and if you had more experience you’d see it”? Or was it “you crazy kids!”?

    You should attribute for those with whom you disagree.
    Failing to attribute an idea doesn’t show respect for the thinker; to the contrary, it shows contempt. We’re all lawyers here; part of our job is to do verbal battle over ideas. Other bloggers are big boys and girls who can defend their ideas, and who want to do so. Treating them like fragile teacups dishonors them and their ideas.

    Like Pattis, if someone mentions my name on the internet, I notice, and can respond or, if I’m persuaded, learn. If someone talks about my ideas without using my name, there’s no reason for me know it unless it’s in one of the few blogs I read regularly. It was not worth mention when Pattis was the only one doing it, but if everyone does it the blawgosphere will turn from a conversation to a disjoint set of bloviating pundits.

    Most importantly, you should attribute for the blawgosphere. It’s not, as Pattis insinuates, about marketing, but about conversation. If marketing drove blogging practices, we would all to each other when we agreed and studiously ignore each other when we didn’t.
    Marketers aren’t interested in conversation unless it makes them look good.

    A happyspherical lovefest doesn’t make for interesting reading; conflict does. Not attributing kills conversation; attributing facilitates honest discussion. Not attributing allows bloggers to refer to discussion in the blogosphere—as Koehler has referred to it—as “the self-righteous fury of the mob.” Which is great for the victimocrats among us (who, like Koehler, can bemoan the lot of poor “victim” John Kindley), but which is a conversational dead end.

    For my part, I want to know when people disagree with me; if you think I’m being a fool, tell me. Don’t mutter about me behind my back. When I am (as here? possibly) wrong, I want to be told why, and when I am right, I want to rebut your argument. I want readers to be able to follow the discussion, so that they can reach their own conclusions.

    Bad ideas left unchallenged thrive; bad ideas challenged get better. Attribution is not about personalities, but about dialectics. Pretend that there is no thinker behind the thought—take the pundit’s position, that your authority is so great that not naming those with whom you disagree is an act of mercy to them—and the discussion just ends. It’s no way to persuade (if that’s your objective); nor to synthesize ideas.

    It is, rather, the online equivalent of talking about someone as though he’s not in the room, when in fact he is.

  • Not Enough Time

    Posted on August 2nd, 2010 Mark Bennett 1 comment

    I recently offered Texas lawyers a free web marketing consultation. We did a little web-presence review, and I suggested some things they could do to improve their visibility (without outsourcing their reputations).

    In response to the advice that the best way to do so was to produce new substantive content, as with a blog or a CMS, the refrain that I heard, time after time, was “I don’t have time for that.”

    These were lawyers looking for more clients. Let’s suppose, conservatively, that they aspired to get only one additional client a month, and that they were real slackers, who would spend an average of two hours on a case, from beginning to end. So they wanted two additional hours of work a month, but they didn’t have time to spend a half hour a week blogging.

    “I don’t have time” is an excuse. These lawyers think they have two hours a month for new cases, but not two hours a month for blogging. I know lawyers who play golf, who watch football, who hang out at bars, and who claim not to understand how I have time to write. (I tell them my days just have more hours than theirs.)

    Like most things, it’s matter of priorities. When writing is more important to you than golf or football or alcohol, it’s easy to find time to write.

    (I say “write” because the written word is the most indexable medium. Lawyers wanting to participate online could just as well record audio or video podcasts, or publish original photography or artwork.)

  • Theory: Reputation and Exposure

    Posted on July 30th, 2010 Mark Bennett 2 comments

    So there are two things a lawyer marketing herself online can seek: reputation and exposure. The two are not tethered: one can have any reputation, from terrible to terrific, in any sphere. Is it better for a lawyer to have a good reputation in a narrow sphere, or a poor reputation in a wide sphere?

    Exposure is what the marketers, SEO gamers, and other self-styled experts, ninjas, and gurus are selling, with their empty promises of high search-engine placement. There are precious few who will assist you in building your reputation.

    Why? Because online reputation-building requires that the customer do something more than write a fat check. It requires that he have a good reputation offline, that he be a competent communicator, and that he work hard. And if the customer has, is, and does these things he has little reason to write a fat check to some expert.

    So you get these experts who want to make an easy buck off lawyers who want to develop their online presence. They can't do it by selling reputation (nobody can sell you a reputation) so they sell exposure.

    The problem is, you see, that often exposure is inimical to reputation. Take the marketer—Sparta Townson, for example (previous SMT post)—who spams blog comments in the name of her clients. In theory (debunked theory, but theory nonetheless) she is increasing their exposure by "link-building," but the reputational harm she could cause in the process, when the bloggers take umbrage and name the customers, is tremendous.

    Broadly speaking, online reputation is what people find when they google your name; online exposure is how likely you are to be found otherwise. If your reputation is bad, you don't want people finding you online. Tend to your reputation first.

  • Theory and SEO

    Posted on July 19th, 2010 Mark Bennett 4 comments

    [7/20/10 edits in red.]

    Assuming that I haven't missed something completely, which, naturally, I have . . .

    Humans communicate for fivesix reasons:

    • To educate;
    • To entertain;
    • To persuade;
    • To inspire;
    • To attract; and
    • To deceive.

    Any discrete communication might serve one or more of these purposes. For example, with this sentence I aim to educate and to persuade.

    Examples of communications intended to attract are Read the rest of this entry »

  • Who Makes the Rules of Social Media?

    Posted on July 18th, 2010 Mark Bennett 1 comment

    Jamie Spencer wrote a post about Sparta Townson, Internet Guru Girl; as of right now it comes up fifth on a search for her name (after her WordPress.com blog, her LinkedIn page, and her Twitter page). 

    I wrote about Sparta Townson at Defending People as well, in the context of the marketing services she is trying to sell, as did Ken at Popehat.

    Aside from the reputational questions for the lawyers who are Townson's target market, The story has interesting angles in the realm of pure social media, which belong here at SMT rather than Defending People. Read the rest of this entry »

  • The Unparodyables

    Posted on May 18th, 2010 Mark Bennett 1 comment

    Funniest thing today:

    Some "real lawyers oh-so-busy practicing law" seem to have way too much time on their hands: http://tinyurl.com/3xfjcqt

    That's New York social-media-for-lawyers yell leader Niki Black, this morning on Twitter. (Don't bother looking for the tweet, it was quickly deleted.)

    The site to which the link points is a parody site, making fun of "third wave" lawyers and "legal rebels" (TWLs and LRs). Niki sees the hand of so-called real lawyers busy practicing law behind the obvious parody. Even the name on the site—"Dick Troll" is coarsely parodic.

    Except . . . it's not. John Richard Troll, as a moment's investigation would have told Niki, is an Indianapolis lawyer, in practice for 25 years. The site is a sincere attempt to tout TWLs and LRs (who think they're new because they put a label on the things others have been quietly doing for fifteen years).

    When followers of a rubric are themselves unable to distinguish earnest expressions of that rubric from parody, they probably shouldn't expect others to take them seriously.

  • The Internet: For Entertainment Purposes Only?

    Posted on February 21st, 2010 Mark Bennett 1 comment

    Set off by the kid on his lawn who left this comment:

    It’s sad, really. You’re like Alkon, unable (or perhaps unwilling) to understand the culture of the Internet. So you take offense at our customs and violate our most sacred taboos, and when someone comes to educate you, you blow him off as a “narcissi(s)tic idiot.”

    Scott Greenfield writes:

    My child commenter, the World Ruler, is wrong, yet right.  There is a culture of which I am not a part.  While I may know more about it then most people of a certain age, it moves so quickly and morphs in ways I would never anticipate that it’s impossible to stay on top of it while watching from the outside.  And I have no delusion that I’m not on the outside.

    My own theory of this cultural divide: as we get farther and farther from the Great Depression, America’s young become more and more comfortable that their basic needs will be met without a struggle. This leaves them free to focus on entertaining themselves with anonymous comments and practical jokes.

    There are no “sacred taboos” in such a world. Lying is okay in the context of a prank, so the Amazon-bombing of Amy Alkon (who may very well be a repugnant human being) seems to them a perfectly appropriate response. In this new online world, perceived transgressors are not entitled to common decency.

    Add to this the failure of U.S. public schools in the last century to teach rhetoric and logic, and it becomes obvious that those who call out the new generation for lying will be seen as racist neocons like Alkon.

    The culture clash is between those who have character in the real world, and expect others to behave with character online; and those who don’t; between those who view near-universal online anonymity as a detriment, and those who view it as a benefit.

    Oddly, the same clash could be described as being between those who treat the internet as a serious extension of meatspace, and those who don’t. Everything anonymously written on the internet suddenly makes sense if it’s labeled “for entertainment purposes only.”

    That’s why we need have no fear that Scott’s World Ruler and his ilk will ever actually rule the world. No matter how carefully they craft their pseudonymous online personas, those personas will not (except in rare pathological instances) help the people in the real world get elected, hired, or even laid. Should the actual people accidentally reproduce, those personas will not help them feed or protect their offspring or themselves.

    Despite cyberpunk dreams, human beings still exist in the real world, and in the real world, people can tell you’re a dog.

  • Social Media Narcissism Etc.

    Posted on February 5th, 2010 Mark Bennett 3 comments

    While Avvo was having a conference in Seattle last week (at which they and I were invited to speak, billed as “Three Angry Lawyers,” but only if we paid our own way), Scott Greenfield and Brian Tannebaum twitted using the #avvo hashtag. For example:

    This #avvo used car salesman conference is deeply disturbing.

    and

    Remember something you avvocating maniacs, if you’re not a good lawyer, people will find out, despite your blogs and online garbage #avvo

    Avvo was displaying the #avvo twitter timeline on the podium.

    One of the attendees, Sonny Cohen, wrote a blog post, When Flames Erupt in the Twitter-enabled Conference Backchannel (no, seriously, that’s the title). Conceding that Scott and Brian “had some great points about abuse of social media, thoughtless blogging and even the alleged ‘social media gurus’ (SMG) who industrialize the process of building real human networks,” he nonetheless called them “harassers,” “flamers,” and “jackass” (half a jackass each, apparently).

    Cohen’s post, and his Twitter response to Scott, were overwrought and self-important to the point of narcissism. It’s Twitter; if someone says something you don’t want to hear, you can block it. Brian and Scott didn’t even know that Avvo was displaying the timeline on the podium. (Had they known, they would have had a lot more fun with it.)

    Saving for another day modern Homo Internetus’s tendency to throw around heavy words like “harassment” in response to the slightest criticism: are narcissism and hysteria prerequisites for a job as an internet marketer?

    I posted a comment to the blog post, to the effect of “‘Harassers’? Really, Sonny? Credibility fail.” Or rather, I tried to post a comment, but Cohen did not publish it.

    Add intellectual cowardice to the list of character traits that Cohen is displaying in this episode.

  • Twitter Strategy

    Posted on February 5th, 2010 Mark Bennett 1 comment

    A colleague followed me on twitter four times in a month. To do that, he would have had to unfollow me three times in a month. I asked him what was up with that. His reply:

    I’ve found I don’t like to “follow” without being “followed” back.  Seems a one way conversation – not fun for me.
    I found that some people would follow back after the second time I followed them.  Assumed the email we get was the reminder, soon buried under more recent ones. The theory has worked, with people I know who are less tech savvy.

    This strategy, of unfollowing people who don’t follow you back works great—for twitterers like FollerBackGirl (following 4,050; followed by 3,688). I created FollerBackGirl to demonstrate the irrelevance of Twitter followers by quickly finding a large number of people who will follow anything that follows them back.

    Following only people who follow you back is a good way to keep up with everything FollerBackGirl and her followers are doing, and to accumulate more worthless followers.

    Unfollowing those who don’t follow you back is a flawed strategy for any other purpose.

    I don’t read 90% of what the people I follow write. I couldn’t possibly—I’m following more than 200 people. And I don’t respond to 90% of what I do read—I couldn’t do that without hiring a GhostTwitterer. So 90% of the time Twitter is something less than a one-way conversation, and 1% of the time it’s something more. I respond to less than one tweet in a hundred from the timeline of people I follow. If I followed everyone who followed me, I wouldn’t read 5% of what the people I followed wrote or respond to one tweet in 200+.

    I also don’t give what someone charmingly called the reacharound followback. I don’t follow my followers back just because they follow me.

    More interesting is better than more followers. The Twitter Interesting Index v1 is the number of followers a person has, divided by the number of people he follows (v2 will be recursive, so that being followed by more-interesting people increases your Interesting Index more). A person gets more followers than he follows by being interesting. @ScottGreenfield, for example, has a TII-1 of 36.5. @WestWingReport has a TII-1 of 29.8. @ChrisPirillo has a TII-1 of 115.9. All of these people are worth following, unless your rule for whether to follow someone includes “does he follow me back?”

    Here’s my strategy: If I see a retweet of something that makes me say, “I’m glad I didn’t miss that!” I’ll look up the twitterer and, if he’s often interesting, follow him.

    If I see that someone has followed me, I’ll look at his TII-1. If it’s less than 1 and she is not a total noob, I won’t even bother reading her tweets. Otherwise I’ll look at her last 20 or so twits, and if I see something that makes me say “I’m glad I didn’t miss that” I’ll follow her.

    I follow interesting people. Whether they follow me back is unimportant. In educating and entertaining me, they’re giving me a gift. Expecting them to follow me back as well would be not only counterproductive, but also churlish.