Women who eat on tubes make menz cry

This post is to serve a few purposes: a love letter to my former favourite Facebook group – now sadly gone, a plea to fellow Londoners to take a (possibly literal) stand on this issue, and perhaps a bit of a general education to a few people, but I won’t make that objective #1 and I want to keep this short enough that people will read to the end.

I want to describe a phenomenon that’s had a bit of press attention lately, why it’s horrible, what could/should be done about it, and hopefully end on a funny.

Tl;dr: if you find yourself defending people who photograph and ridicule women without their knowledge, stop it. And then tell other people who are to shut up.

What is “women who eat on tubes”?

WWEOT (henceforth) is a creepy project set up by a man called Tony Burke that documents instances of him – and now many others – “catching” women eating something on a tube train in London. It’s creepy because the object of this “game” is to capture the moment without her sussing the photographer out. He started this on his personal facebook page in 2011 but this year the public group and Tumblr have seen a surge in popularity.

The “artists”, as they’ve decided to call themselves, then post these photos to a Facebook group (which I’m not going to link to) with a little description of her – including which train she was on and what time the photo was taken. All without her permission, and without her knowledge – unless someone later alerts her to her image being in public.

Is Burke seriously comparing women to wildlife, and saying every commuter should become a David Attenborough, examining the ‘Female Creature’…?

Yes, he is, because he’s that kind of guy. From what we can see of him online, he comes across as very disturbing. Originally in interviews he insisted the women part was “random”, but if we view his photos, we actually find that he thinks he does nothing annoying on trains ever, and to him it’s always women committing this heinous crime of appetite, which he finds irritating. His friends chip in with fat-shaming, sexual comments and so on. I have documented some of these in this album.

Yet 3 years later he's still going and has even taken to the radio to defend it. As "art".

Yet 3 years later he’s still going and has even taken to the radio to defend it. As “art”.

His film company, called “deadbird” (yeah) have made some telling stuff. He posted with sarcastic sadness about his “sexist films” not being watched on WWEOT (I no longer have access to this due to our group’s removal – see below – and WWEOT being a membership-only-on-request group). He is friends from school or work with many of his fellow WWEOT “artists”, or “digital peeping toms“, more appropriately.

Transport for London has even sent out a statement saying that anyone who feels ‘threatened’ by the pictures should contact British Transport Police.

Some people are genuinely upset by this and feel they now need to modify their behaviour to avoid being treated this way. Surely this is Burke’s goal – to stop women who “irritate” him, to hold and exercise that power. And his friends support it.

What’s your problem?

The comments on WWEOT’s photos tend to be belittling, shaming, and/or of a sexual nature. It’s fair to call it bullying. A more common term, perhaps, is “stranger-shaming“; one of those internet by-products we’re still working out. The most disturbing just now is probably r/creepshots.

It’s natural for us to watch people, to make snap judgments, to have fun with it. But to take that moment in time, capture it and then share it with the world online is a step beyond that can cause real harm.

“I also felt hurt and humiliated – especially by the comments mentioning my “gaping orifice” or sarcastically pondering, “I’d like to know the name of her finishing school.” I was the butt of a joke without my knowledge, in front of thousands of strangers.” – Sophie Wilkinson

There are a lot of “defences” people are now using to justify their membership of, posting in, administrating or general ambivalence towards WWEOT. It’s not art. I don’t really want to go through every single one, suffice to say most of them are standard “arguments” one finds on any bingo card for a discussion of sexism (or any type of oppression, really). For example:

It’s also not about free speech (or freezepeach as we’re now prone to calling it, given the frequency of this parroted argument) – no, I will not defend to the death your right to be a creep, ignore the necessity of consent and mock people openly against their will. Because that ‘right’ does not exist. This is free speech – people scrutinising and criticising what you say, in the hope that you will more carefully consider the results and the lives of others.

Yes, there are worse things that happen on public transport and no, it’s not illegal – but if your only barometer for good behaviour is “not illegal!”, is that not worrying? It was legal to rape your wife until 1991, for example. Women on trains just want to be left alone – why is it so hard for people to respect this?

[Edit: Telegraph pop-psychologist confirms this kind of behaviour should be cause for concern for friends; suggest they get help before they do end up committing actual crimes; a very real possibility]

Right of reply

In response to this growing popularity, as WWEOT approached 20,000 members on facebook, a journalist named Mimi Kempton-Stewart started a group called Men Who Post On ‘Women Who Eat On Tubes’ (MWPOWWEOT for short). Another protest group, “Women who eat wherever the fuck they want” also sprang into existence.

MWPOWWEOT

The front page before it disappeared; quotation at the top from a visitor

 

The aim of MWPOWWEOT was simple. Pick a guy who’s posted some “art” in WWEOT, have a look at his profile, and post one of his publicly-available photos on the group’s wall with a little description of how good an artist he clearly is.

I loved this group dearly. I made quite a few friends. We all learned from each other. Maybe we taught some silly boys a little bit about the world (optimism there). It was a safe space for feminist rage, where the people who were made to shut up were, for once, the harassers and creeps and not us – our anger was the visible thing, and their stupidity shone through in their impotent insults. I will miss it.

MWPOWWEOT, as of 8th May, has been closed by facebook due to a report made by a member of WWEOT about an apparent “credible threat of violence” (which is undoubtedly a lie) and facebook has conceded, deciding that MWPOWWEOT was against “community standards”. This is also questionable, and a read of the terms of service would suggest that WWEOT actually goes against clauses 3.6 and 3.7, with the complaint also breaching clause 4. We might resurrect the group in another form soon.

But aren’t you just as bad?

You know what? No. There’s good evidence that lifting the mask of anonymity, removing the shield of unaccountability and pointing the finger of ridicule are good ways to address anti-social and hurtful behaviours. Accosted by a flasher? Point and laugh. Their goal is humiliation, exerting power and control over their target, and taking the piss undermines them. This woman has nailed it – and with art, no less. This guy got his own back on a train.

So, taking images that these creepers have publicly uploaded of their own volition and turning them into a joke is the same or worse? No, taking someone’s image without their knowledge or consent and mocking it surely is not. It’s a similar tactic deliberately. If they’re hurt by it, should they not then realise why people are protesting their actions to begin with? If you really think calling out bullies is as bad as being the bully in the first placeI’m not sure where to go from there.

There are other stranger-shaming sites that I don’t like. People often say “but Tubecrush!” – where people take pictures of cute men on trains and upload them. It’s not, however, derogatory or indeed shaming at all. It doesn’t perpetuate negative ideas about men. It does encourage participants to speak to their subject and obtain consent for the photo. It doesn’t suggest male behaviour should be altered. One that does is “men who take up too much space on trains” – a problem many of us are no doubt familiar with.

I’d rather see these also disappear or at least be anonymised. However, pretending there is no difference between pictures of men and women in public is willful ignorance. If men did not want these groups to exist, they wouldn’t. They don’t care because it genuinely does not affect them. They have the luxury of it genuinely meaning nothing.

To understand the effects of actions on already-disadvantaged groups, you have to first accept the disadvantage exists. Then you have to consider the action in that context. Women face all kinds of judgement and discrimination throughout their lives, not least diet and weight policing. Women’s bodies are made public property in a way that men’s are not, and WWEOT underlines that. Eating disorders are far more common in women.

The same type of action has different effects on different people, depending on where they start in society – to borrow an analogy from a chat with a friend, think of hit points. The more you have, the less the same kind of attack actually hurts. Start of with less, harm is greater and more frequent.

Some people are fond of pretending that things are “just as bad” for the Straight White Man, but they are deluded.  Here’s a succinct comedic expression of that.

safetytipsformen

This train will terminate at the next station

It’s important for people expressing divisive sentiments and acting in discriminatory ways to be called out. If we don’t question and criticise them, their views are validated. This is why the calls for people not to laugh along to, but call out, things like rape jokes are increasing. The kinds of people who think misogyny, racism, homophobia etc. are funny are likely harbouring real unsavoury views. By laughing instead of challenging, you make them think this is normal and acceptable.

A pertinent example is Jeremy Clarkson. Again given a free pass despite clearly being an odious man, because he’s a famous dude who makes people money. People in a less privileged position than him would not be given the same leeway for being nearly as offensive.

“Lighten up and take a joke/get a sense of humour” should not be an acceptable smoke screen for this kind of behaviour. I’ve discussed before how actual decent comedy punches up, not down. Tony Burke is clearly a disturbing individual, as I went over at the start. His irritation at women living live means he can shame them for doing so. Because art. Makes sense – but it’s seriously worrying. People run with it, “If you don’t want to be photographed eating on the train, don’t eat on the train” – classic victim blaming.

Don’t want to be assaulted? Don’t wear that dress then. Don’t want to be taken advantage of? Don’t get so drunk. Women’s behaviour is policed in so many arenas and here’s yet another one. I’m not going to stand for it. Please join me.

Next stop: humanity

What can we do about any of this? Friend-of-a-friend who had a horrible experience sums up:

I don’t want taking pictures in public spaces to become illegal, I just want people to be nice and respectful. And I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Sadly, many members of WWEOT seem to think it is too much, and that, to me, is a red flag. People who think a request of respect is just too great a demand, who do not understand the concept and importance of consent and the sinister nature of watching women Big Brother style – I highly doubt covert photography would be the end of their transgressions against decency. To put it lightly.

if it was called “black people laughing on the bus” there’d be a national outcry and the creators would be dragged around town so we could all throw rotten tomatoes at them.

Indeed I expect we might see similar with “gays being all queer on the street”.

There’s so much more to say on this but I must wrap it up – please do add your thoughts and links in the comments.

I win the internet

Hilariously, last week a male member of WWEOT came to MWPOWWEOT to tell everyone how he thought I was one of the worst people on the entire internet because of the anger and rudeness I express in my comments in the group. Full comment here.

Lots of people found this as funny as I did and a friend has made me a special Interwebz Award (you can submit your own nominations – click on the image to visit the blog!).

If I can annoy creepers that much with my comments (that aren’t even in their own group, I’ll add), then I figure I’m probably doing something right. Cheers, everyone, and if you see a guy with his camera phone staring at a woman having a snack, do join me in pointing him out to the whole carriage.

JustinAward

 

Links

  • TechDigest: James O’Malley covers the group’s closure today, comments from me and Mimi within and comments from WWEOT fans underneath.
  • Imgur album of mole-shots from WWEOT.
  • Imgur album demonstrating some comments on Tony’s original album and an album of some of the visitors we had in MWPOWWEOT
  • MWPOWWEOT has relocated to GooglePlus for now. Click through to see new examples of creepiness.
  • “But women are in WWEOT as well!” Internalised sexism, google it. And read Sarah Ditum.
  • Daily Beast: Tauriq Moosa also covered the creepy stalker-like WWEOT haven
  • Telegraph: The creeps shot TWitter trend: how creeps just got creepier
  • Independent covers the protest picnic of April 14th, which I sadly couldn’t make
  • Straight White Male – the lowest difficulty setting there is” – a nerd-friendly explanation of the idea of “privilege”
  • New Satesman: Why do misogynists deserve the “privacy” the women they abuse are denied?

FBrape campaign

fc-webicon-facebook

On May 21st 2013, the Women, Action  & the Media group wrote an open letter to Facebook, which was signed by over 100 advocacy groups, asking them to review their policies on permitted content.

Background

There has long been a problem on the site. While its “community standards” seem to be fairly clear:

Facebook does not permit hate speech, but distinguishes between serious and humorous speech*. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, we do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

Facebook does not tolerate bullying or harassment.

Sharing any graphic content for sadistic pleasure is prohibited.

Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.”

These rules seemed to be enforced in a somewhat sporadic and misdirected manner.

People were often complaining of their breastfeeding photos being taken down. While some may (oddly) disagree with people being public about the act, people should be able to share these images on their own platforms. You can hide other people’s photos that you don’t personally want to see. But these images were being removed because they were ‘offensive’ and breaching the terms.

In a now-famous case, one woman who had undergone a double mastectomy followed by an ambitious tattoo project had her torso image taken down. This was not a pornographic image. Other educational materials have been removed, even anatomical drawings, which one would have thought would surely be unobjectionable.

Yet, alongside all of this, some very disturbing and hateful pages were being left alone. Pages sharing images of women with extensive facial injuries, bruising and bleeding, hair emerging from a closed car boot, women collapsed at the bottom of flights of stairs, men forcing women’s heads down toilets – all with nasty misogynistic captions including incitement to rape and domestic violence – and purely pornographic pages devoted to sharing photos of “sluts” and people’s ex-girlfriends. Graphic examples (not for the faint of heart) and some more background on the campaign as it went along can be found on this page.

So, what could be done about this?

Strategy

Facebook makes a lot of money from advertising. Companies pay to promote their ads, and these are semi-customisable as to where they appear on the site, and to whom. The hateful pages as described above also have ads displayed, so what WAM and other groups (including @everydaysexism and @thewomensroomUK) did was to start a hashtag campaign on twitter alongside the open letter: #FBrape.

On this hashtag, users shared screenshots of companies’ ads featuring on these pages with violent misogynistic content and asked them to pull their funding from Facebook. Reporting the pages individually has never worked; even if the complaint is upheld, a new page springs up and remains unchallenged.  So getting companies to affect Facebook’s profits seemed a more sensible and effective way to go.

Results

Within days, companies started to pull their ads from the site in response to rising pressure via Twitter and letter-writing. Articles were written for the Independent and the Guardian and the campaign was shared widely by individuals and sites such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post.

Victory?

This week, Facebook has agreed to review its policies and has taken down a large number of pages, as well as making plans to work with WAM and the Everyday Sexism project to implement new guidelines and monitoring. Facebook’s statement and WAM‘s statement are available to read. See also: BBCChannel 4 News, HuffPo and HuffPo again.

While companies like Nissan helped this campaign to work by ceasing to pay for adverts on Facebook, others notably did not, instead steadfastly refusing to engage with tweets and comments asking why. It will be interesting to see if anything ever comes of this given how many people have pledged not to buy their products any more. Dove and audible.co.uk, for example.

I’d like to see a list of companies who did and didn’t pull their ads, so that people can continue to make informed choices about their purchases. Please leave a comment if you have such a list, or one company name you’d like to highlight.

Dove seemed not to pay attention to the campaign or what people were saying, instead giving a standard copy-paste response in some cases:

Thank you for raising this. Dove is committed to representing beauty of all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes. We believe in celebrating real beauty and in raising the self-esteem of women and young girls globally. We were shocked to see our advert on these kinds of pages and have spoken to Facebook who have removed all the pages that have come to our attention. If you do see a page like this, please private message us the link so that we can ask Facebook to remove it. As Facebook advertising targets people, not pages, we cannot select which pages our adverts appear on. For the future, we have refined our targeting to reduce the chance of any adverts appearing on similar pages. If there are more pages like this that haven’t been removed, please private message the links to us and we’ll have Facebook take these down.
Thanks
Dove

As stated above, reporting individual pages does not solve the problem. It’s clearer policy and enforcement that needed to happen. Fortunately, it seems like it will, regardless.

Social media is an evolving entity. Policy and lawmakers are struggling to keep up – and some users are having spectacular common sense failings in the process. In related fall-out, users who posted on University “rate your shag” pages may now be facing legal action. That’ll teach ‘em…

What it wasn’t about

*Free speech. Yes, free speech includes things you find offensive. But Facebook is a service that people sign up to use, and agree to terms of use when they do so. It does not owe anyone a platform, particularly not people who are clearly breaching their guidelines. I’ve talked with friends about other places on the internet that no doubt have extremely offensive content; 4chan etc. Their advertisers choose which boards to advertise on, and in places like b/, the ads will only be from companies who really wouldn’t care about such content (hardcore pornography outlets, for example).

Edit: it’s also not about censorship. People throw this word around a lot lately. Please learn what it means before you join in. Facebook as a company is well within its right to make sure its users comply with the terms of use. People do not lose their right to be misogynistic bastards just because they can’t post whatever they want on Facebook, they can go and do it elsewhere. I can see how close to censorship it seems, but I don’t buy it. Please see the comments below for some other people’s posts and discussion about this.

Some will say we all just need to learn to take a joke. Hopefully this shows that the vast majority of us are no longer willing to accept misogyny covered by a thin veil of supposed comedic intent. Comedy is not about oppressing the already oppressed, or promoting violence and hatred towards certain groups.

Facebook is so widely used now, particularly by younger people, and it has the power to influence general attitudes; it is not only guided by them. By joining the fight against misogyny rather than aiding it, we could start to see some real positive changes. It is heartening to see a campaign so well-organised, with a clear purpose, receive so much support and have such an effect so quickly.

May there be many more.

Confessions Of A Former Misogynist

NB/ there’re descriptions of violence in this, obviously – don’t read on if that’s not something you want to deal with today.

Another guest post for you, readers. This time, my friend Ben recounts his transition from misogynist to feminist. Yes I am happy to call him a feminist; I don’t think one needs to experience a form oppression to disagree with and stand against it. Men can be feminists; many are and they’re valuable allies.

I think this is an important post because it’s from a man who confesses his attitude was wrong, who noticed that, and then changed it over time. That doesn’t seem to happen too often and hopefully it might inspire some people, or at least help us to make sense of why people can harbour these common, irrational feelings of hatred.

NB/ text by Ben; I have added in headings, images and links.

What about the men?

“If I can’t have you, no one can!”

Yelled the estranged boyfriend to his ex girlfriend, while she was trapped in a blazing house fire he’d started. As a teenager watching this reported on the regional news, I felt a rush of the expected emotions – anger, sorrow and empathy, but not in the places you might expect. My first emotion wasn’t empathy for the girl who’d burned to death in the fire, but anger at what she must have done to deserve it.

Of course, women are just as capable of unhealthy jealous emotions as men, but what’s important is the thought process that got me to this conclusion. By this time I’d painted a picture in my head of a vast conspiracy of powerful, hysterical feminists, who were trying to silence and control men to suit their agenda.

I had a list of examples of how feminism had gone too far. I wasn’t allowed to have long hair at school, while girls were allowed to have long or short hair. Women were allowed to mock men for being bad in bed, but men weren’t allowed to say the same back. I said that women often lied about rape to get men locked up, and pointed to fathers’ rights and the fact that, historically, it was always men who were conscripted into the army.

The real issues

If I’m honest, I only really trotted out the examples above to justify my position; some of them even have some substance, but they didn’t make me angry. What did was, firstly, feminists challenging my point of view and, secondly, the fact that I found it really hard to get a girlfriend and, when I did, it usually ended abruptly with drama.

Getting and keeping a girlfriend was my ultimate goal, not because I genuinely loved any of the girls in question, but because I saw having a girlfriend as a status symbol. I could tell my friends that I had a girlfriend, was getting sex and that I wasn’t a failure as a man. I now realise that most of my friends wouldn’t care about my man status anyway, despite the lad banter, but this was what was going on in my head at the time. The feelings of the girls in question were irrelevant; to me girls were property that I had to cling on to and control. And if they dumped me, they deserved to be shamed in every way possible.

I would use emotional blackmail and intense pressure to get what I wanted in these relationships, and make them last as long as possible. I went out with a girl who smoked pot occasionally, and I basically told her that I would commit suicide if she kept doing it. This happened repeatedly, because she (rightly) refused to give in to me. I even hospitalised myself once – the pressure on her must have been immense.

The thought process here is difficult to explain, but I’ll give it a go. If a girl I was going out with did something I didn’t like, I’d get a big shot of adrenaline and hit a wall of irrational anger, especially if they knew I didn’t like what they were doing – I then saw her behaviour as selfishness. Once my anger button had been pressed, I lost all my powers of self-reflection and rational thinking. At that point, I’d come up with all sorts of warped explanations for my behaviour to create even more pressure and exert more control.images

I should also point out that I did (and still do) genuinely suffer from clinical depression. The difference now is that I’m self-aware enough to know how my actions affect other people, and I’ve developed ways of coping with it. Back then, however, I knew it was something I could abuse as leverage to get what I wanted. If my girlfriend talked to another man, and I got jealous, I’d sit in the corner with my head in my hands saying I was depressed. I’d say that I felt like killing myself because of the way she made me feel.

Consequences

When I inevitably got dumped, I’d tell my friends horror stories about how she’d said my depression was just a form of emotional blackmail, and make up lies to try to turn her friends against her. Being dumped, especially if we hadn’t had sex, was the worst thing that could happen. I wanted sex, and only women had the power to give or take it away, and in my mind this made them more powerful than anything else. Being dumped would push the anger button, because I ultimately couldn’t face the truth of looking at who I was and what I was doing.

At this time, I was also dabbling in music recording and fancied myself as the new Roger Waters. When I was dumped by my then-girlfriend, I wrote a whole concept album about the break-up. Embarrassingly, it got a distribution deal and was produced on a decent-sized CD run, so there’s a permanent record of it that still comes back to haunt me.

The lyrics are fascinating to me now. They basically talked about my ex girlfriend as if she’d joined a cult; a cult where nobody listens to men any more, and everyone’s obsessed with “so-called rights”. In short, it says: this slut obviously couldn’t think for herself, so she got sucked into the feminazi agenda and dumped a lovely boyfriend, just because he suffered from depression. This was easier for me to handle than the truth, which was that I’d been dumped because I was an angry, obsessive, control-freak who emotionally abused his girlfriends.

Loud and proud

I remember when I first heard the word misogynist. I was talking to a friend about a girl who’d dumped me, and my feelings about feminists creating a society where nice men couldn’t get girlfriends, and he described me as “quite a misogynist”. I asked him what he meant, and he said “it’s simply hatred of women.” I instantly loved the term. I didn’t consider myself a sexist – I thought of Benny Hill as sexist – sexism was just silly but this was serious.

I very seriously thought women were irrational, mad, over-emotional and pseudo-intellectual creatures who would do anything, via new feminism, to crush weak men who suffered from depression, and I hated them. These days, I see a lot of people saying “I’m not a misogynist, but…”, because they don’t want to be called a misogynist, but not me. It was the term I’d been looking for, and I was proud to call myself a misogynist.

This was before the age of social media, but I know what I’d be doing if it was available at the time. I’d be following feminists and strong women on Twitter, combing their tweets for any kind of slip-up that I could use to ‘expose’ them. If I saw a blog or comment by a feminist that challenged my world view, my anger button would be pressed and, rather than responding rationally, I’d lash out with gendered insults, all while completely failing to empathise with them.

I’d be angrily commenting on blogs and YouTube videos about feminism, sticking up for the men who just want to get girlfriends and sex, but can’t because of this repellent radical feminism. And I would probably never change, because the large scale of social media has effectively provided a veritable support group of people who feel the same way, with the same irrational anger that prevents them from assessing their views.

Turning point

So what changed? I was in my 20s, and I’d had unprotected sex with a girl – this is another issue, actually – my need to have sex, and thus prove myself as a man, was always greater than the potential consequences – I had a complete inability to view sex and relationships from a rational and sensible perspective.

I told her that, if she got pregnant, she couldn’t have the baby, because it would put too much pressure on me to support it. When she told me that it was her choice what she did with her body, it pushed my anger button. How could she even consider doing that to me? I was irrationally angry, and my empathy was entirely skewed towards me, without ever considering how she might feel.

I told her I wanted nothing more to do with her, and she said to me:

“I’d like you to learn from this, but you won’t. You’ll just chalk me up as another “mad girl” and carry on repeating the same stupid mistakes.”

Again, that hit my anger button, and I was fuming about it for days. But a few months later, I thought about it more, and decided to start analysing why I was so angry.

The latter was key here. I’d never tried to rationalise my anger before; I’d just followed where it led. Of course, the problem with irrational anger is that you can’t analyse it while you’re irrationally angry. You need to give it a few days to cool off and then look at it.

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Revelations

What I found began to horrify me. I’d write down why I thought I was angry a few days ago – lists of statements such as ‘she overreacted,’ ‘she’s being arrogant, selfish and hypocritical.’ Then I looked at each one individually and asked myself what had actually happened. What was the truth? Without the shield of irrational anger, I began to realise that half of what was on the list wasn’t even true, and the stuff that was true couldn’t in anyway justify that level of anger and hatred.

Why was I so angry and hateful? Even now, I find this difficult to explain. It was probably a combination of an inability to accept criticism, insecurity and hormones, but I began to see that it was very seriously clouding my judgment. I continued to talk to people about my difficulty attracting women, sustaining relationships and my feelings about feminism, but when I got challenged, I decided to genuinely reflect on it rather than just getting angry and staying with the same views.

It didn’t work exactly like that, of course. Feminism still pushed my anger buttons, and I still argued a lot about it. But if something made me angry, I’d go home angry about it, silently rage about it while trying to sleep and then a few days later try to rationally analyse what had made me angry.

In turn, this led to a larger sense of self awareness. I knew about self awareness before, but I mainly just saw it as being self-deprecating in order to get compliments. Actually being aware of what you think, how you appear to other people, and why, made a massive difference, not only in terms of self-reflection, but also in terms of empathy.

I soon realised that my empathy had been severely skewed for years, but I’ve found that this can be unlearned once you’re self-aware enough. I’d only ever considered myself as the subject of empathy, or other men who were in my position, I’d never considered the emotions and feelings of the women I’d been emotionally abusing.

When I realised how my behaviour must have made my girlfriends feel, I felt sick. There wasn’t a feminist conspiracy to deprive nice men from getting sex and girlfriends. The girls I’d been out with hadn’t dumped me because I was ‘too nice’ or because I was depressed, but because I was an emotionally abusive arsehole. That’s not an easy thing to admit, but it’s a lot easier to fix once you’ve done it.

What followed over the next few years was an epiphany as I started to consider sexism and misogyny in the wider world. I spent several years married to a feminist (we’ve since separated, but I still thank her for patiently opening my eyes to so much of this), who would point out areas of sexist culture to me when it arose. At this time, despite no longer being an all-out misogynist, I still subscribed to the idea that sexism was largely a problem of the past, but I now see that it isn’t.

Everyday Sexism

There are obvious examples, such as the discrepancy in salaries between men and women in the same roles and the number of women in parliament, but it’s actually all over the place. I’m reminded of the episode of Life on Mars with the black policeman in a 1970s police station, saying that you can’t just get rid of racism because it’s everywhere; it’s embedded in the culture. Once you recognise sexism you see the same pattern emerge. It’s not just stuff like men pinching women’s bottoms in the office lift; sexism is still a part of our culture in so many places.

Just off the top of my head, I regularly hear jokes about women drivers among my friends. If I go to a stand-up comedy gig, the line-up is invariably all men, and there’s nearly always a rape joke and a joke about how slapping some women in some circumstances is okay. Disturbingly, this is usually greeted with a big cheer from the stag parties in attendance, as if this is something to be celebrated.

When I read books or watch TV or films now, I’m constantly aware of how many female characters are only shoehorned into the plot to provide a love interest for a male character, or to act as eye candy. I watched District 9, thinking it was an awesome film (which it is), but it was then pointed out to me that there are no female characters in it, apart from a bit-part from a wife. That’s just one example – there are loads of others. This sort of stuff isn’t intentionally misogynist; it’s a product of a culture where we think men do the important stuff, and women are there for love interests and to have babies.

I work in technology and games journalism which, despite the hugely increasing numbers of girl gamers, still panders to lazy stereotypes. Tech and game trade shows are almost solely aimed at heterosexual men, to the point where the companies employ “booth babes” in minimal clothing to make their products look sexy to heterosexual men, and hold product launches at strip clubs. It all sends out a big message that technology and games are only for heterosexual men, and you can’t join our club.

GoogleSexism

The world looks very different when you take away irrational anger and conspiracy theories and add empathy to the equation. I’m not going to get into the issues of privilege, patriarchy and nice guys, as there’s plenty about that on the Internet already, but there are so many areas where sexism is pervasive in our culture.

You see it in the parades at Formula 1 events, the portrayal of women in computer games and the Internet comment sections full of violent threats (I don’t care if they’re sincere or not – they still contribute to a culture that makes rape seem acceptable to some people). Again, I’ve only listed a very small set of examples – there are thousands of others. Once you recognise sexism, you spot it all over the place [this is the perfect illustration – M].

It’s not always hugely problematic stuff, course. It’s easy to say: “oh, boo hoo, you got inappropriate sexual attention, get a grip – in some countries they stone women to death for adultery!” In fact, for the most part, I know a lot of women just block it out and get on with their lives, and many are preoccupied enough to not even care about most of it, and “good” for them. But it’s there, and when it’s all added up you get a culture where sexism is still very much alive, and in some industries extremely problematic. We might not be forcing women to wear burkas, but we demonstrably still have plenty of sexism in our culture.

Reactions

Whenever this is brought up, the reaction from many quarters is the same kind of irrational anger and skewed empathy that made me into a monster. I’m not for a minute saying that everyone who ever disagrees with a feminist has the same mindset that I used to have, or that you can’t challenge anything a feminist ever says, but I definitely recognise a lot of the same behaviour.

I see intelligent people getting irrationally angry, painting feminists as hysterical, arrogant control-freaks, but not sitting back and asking why they’re angry, rationalising it and asking if they’re wrong. I often also see just a cursory disclaimer on forum posts, saying “I deplore sexism and misogyny, obviously, but…” and then launching into a diatribe about out-of-control, humourless feminazis and how men are the real victims.

Of course, feminists sometimes say stupid things too – they’re human beings, and we all do it. But when this happens, ask yourself what’s really made you angry – the stupid thing they said, or a conspiracy theory that you can’t debunk because it’s hidden behind a wall of irrational anger.

I haven’t written this to show off about how enlightened I am, to “save women” or to seek atonement for my former emotionally-abusive self, but to explain how my misogynist mindset worked and how I woke up to the real world. If you recognise any of the same behaviour in yourself, know that it’s possible to change, and that you’ll be a much better person for it. If you feel your irrational anger button being pushed, sit back a few days later and ask yourself why, and ask where your empathy lies. Write it down, think about it and be truthful.

You may not come to the same conclusions as me, and that’s fine – I always like to think that life is a learning experience, and I still get a lot wrong. But once you remove irrational anger from the equation and develop a sense of self-awareness and empathy, you can then start to really challenge yourself and open your eyes.

This process took decades with me, though. Debunking a feminist conspiracy in your head is a little bit like deprogramming yourself from a religion. It takes years of self-reflection and asking some really uncomfortable questions about yourself, but you do come out of it a better person.

Ben has also toured with his Skeptics in the Pub talk, Sharks don’t get cancer (The Myth) – so catch it if you can!

Links [Edit: please let us know of similar stories in the comments]

Edit 2014: Some people take hatred, resentment and entitlement to its ultimate fatal conclusion, rather than realising it’s them in the wrong. Thoughts with families.

https://twitter.com/mandogfish/status/470556866775629824

For A Safer Internet

Today I would like to share a guest post with you, by my friend Colin, who is one of those I.T. people.

Last Tuesday was Safer Internet Day and I asked for a post explaining the importance of the projects that Colin is involved in – hopefully stirring up some interest in terms of staying safe online.

Hello

My name is Colin.

You may notice that I am not Maz. You may further notice that I am, in fact, Colin. You have likely gathered this from up there when I stated it.

A brief introduction, then. I’m a Software Engineer1 for a cyber security company, and I volunteer for a social enterprise programme2 for which young professionals go to schools and teach online safety. I’m not going to give the names of either of those things, because then I’d probably have to check with them whether it’s okay to do a thing on someone’s blog, and that sounds like a pain. So I’m going to speak in generics, and specify that everything I have written here is entirely my words with no influence from anyone else. So there. [I have added headings, links and images for your reading pleasure! – M]

Is it secret? Is it safe?

You may not have realised it – it’s admittedly not one of the most famous special occasions – but on February 5th, it was Safer Internet Day. I, therefore, was at a school in London teaching online safety as part of that voluntary shindig, a topic that is growing more vital by the day. If you frequent the technology news on the BBC website, you will have seen this crop up again and again. Heck, you probably see it in the flesh. People creating Facebook groups called “I lost my phone, please post all your numbers here” that are publicly available, or birthday events that everyone can see. And that’s people our age [which is twenty-somethings, by the way – M].

I keep my Facebook pretty locked down (I hope), because it turned up during my university days and I don’t really want people to see photos of me irresponsibly drunk, wearing a ridiculous hat and/or wig, giving my best impression of The Salmon Dance3. It wasn’t fun going through trying to cover up all traces of university foolishness – but it could be so much worse. What if Facebook had my entire childhood on it? Photos of me with yoghurt all over my face? Calling people a poopy-pants? Making unfounded claims about people’s mothers4?

The next generation are allowed to join Facebook at the age of thirteen5. So it’s going to be hard for them to escape who they used to be – the internet will remember with alarming accuracy [hey, look, Geocities! – M], regardless of them moving schools, going to University, getting a job, whatever. And here’s the scariest part: that’s the most trivial of the implications. There are very very nasty people out there and they prey on our those most vulnerable citizens. Do you suppose 13 year olds think about all this?

I don’t think they do. I’d like to make a difference.

Stepping up

Let me be completely honest with you. From a selfish perspective, I’ve gained a lot from being part of this initiative. It made me stand out at work, helped me develop my soft skills, and meant I got to do some pretty awesome stuff like speak at the House of Commons6 and do an online safety workshop with a London 2012 Olympian. My company allows me time out of work to do it, so I don’t lose out in terms of holiday allowance or money.

That’s sure as hell not why I do it, though.7h6B2D2840

Can a one-hour workshop make a real difference to lives? Who can say for sure: hopefully at least it plants the seed that starts them thinking about what they do online. Certainly the topic keeps cropping up in the news, and I can tell you I’ve never asked someone if they’d like me to do one of my workshops and heard back “no thanks”. More importantly, the kids certainly never look bored. So there’s definitely an appetite for what I’m doing: hopefully that implies it’s useful. My gut feeling is that this matters.

I’m not sure exactly what Maz wanted me to write about beyond “your voluntary school stuff”, but hopefully this is the sort of thing she was after. I haven’t named any organisations (although you will be able to find those names out with the tiniest amount of digging I’m sure), so this isn’t me doing a sales pitch and trying to get more people involved. In fact, I think the initiative is growing pretty well without my intervention. And I also know that not everybody has a passion for this stuff. So what am I doing blabbering at you?

Hopefully, inspiring you a little. It’s tough to make a difference: sometimes it feels like that’s something you can only really do when you’re rich and powerful. But there are certainly ways you can try to make a difference, and hopefully, build up a reputation for yourself at the same time – maybe you can make an even bigger difference later?

At the heart of all this, I’m just determined to be one of the ones who gives back more than he takes. I think that’s the attitude everyone should have. I hope you do too.

Comments? I’m @colinmpowers on Twitter. If you look me up, pretend my profile does not blatantly list the names of the organisations I decided not to name earlier. Cheers.


Notes:
[1] That means “Code Monkey”.
[2] That means “thing”.
[3] I made that example up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it actually happened and I’ve just forgotten about it.
[4] This one may still be valid today.
[5] Which means they sign up at about age 10.
[6] Only one of the small rooms in it though, not where PMQs happens or anything.
[7] Well. Maybe a little.

Thank you for reading Colin’s post and do leave a comment below/get in touch with him if you’d like to learn more. Stay safe on the interwebnets, all.

Reasonable force?

Gonna go all topical today, because why not – and twitter’s 140 character limit is annoying me, which is rare.

You may or may not have heard about the new witch-hunt: a young man who goes by the alias of @Rileyy69 being arrested this morning.

This followed his abusive tweets to team GB diver Tom Daley last night after he and his partner unfortunately missed out on a medal in the synchronised diving.

He started by telling the diver he’d disappointed his dad. What wasn’t known to him at the time was that Daley’s father actually succumbed to a brain tumour last year – so, add insensitive to offensive there. Teenagers, eh?

However, such is the nature of Twitter –  Daley’s sharing of this admittedly vitriolic stuff led to wider awareness of his behaviour and even a mention on Sky News! Mr. 69 was not pleased about this, to say the least, and his timeline turned into a rather sweary, threatening affair, apparently including a wish that Daley would drown in a pool. Could possibly be considered a death threat, though I haven’t seen the actual tweet and whether he threatened to do this himself – or if it was, rather a deathwish (neither of which are pleasant but I’m sure we agree a threat is much worse). [Edit: ok, it looks like a threat]

Now, the problems. Twitter rage has ended up with this kid being arrested. We don’t know exactly why, but apparently police have suggested it is directly related to tweets. Interesting, after we’ve celebrated a friend exonerated having also been arrested for a stupid tweet. Flayman, heavily involved in the joke trial campaign, knows what he thinks of it.

We’ve also found out that the kid has actually lost his mother recently. Not an excuse to go around shouting c***-laden abuse at people, but still. Probably not a fact to ignore. Also, how many other relevant details of his background are we missing? There’s also been speculation that his arrest may be for his own safety, following the gigantic backlash.

Is this right?

This is the question I am asking myself today. And many others are, too. We have some celebrities/comedians bemoaning the lack of Twitter responses to daily threats that are flung around – some have left (including Phil Jupitus) because of this behaviour. Surely if the site took complaints more seriously, the police wouldn’t need to be involved?

I’m never a fan of telling people to ‘shut up and take it’ when they’re being bullied/abused in whatever capacity – it’s basic human decency to refrain from such behaviour and where this is lacking, I think it’s fair to try to teach people a lesson – not allow them to silence their targets through intimidation.

Is it really a free speech issue? I don’t think so. No one has the human right to not be offended by anything, ever – though I’m hoping to do a looooong post around this idea soon, and the human decency element I mentioned before [Edit: and I did!]. We’ve got people arguing around this, the law and all sorts right now.

I think it’s a good thing to hold people to account when they are threatening violence. I do. We had the extended battle with one Montreal-based mentally ill individual, David Markuze (or Mabus, as some of you may know him). Years of internet-based largely unintelligible threats directed to various ‘skeptical’ individuals, and finally he was arrested and taken to begin treatment and care; something he was obviously lacking, that had allowed him to behave in such a way in the first place.

I think the hordes of people who shared his statements are, however, also to blame. You gave him publicity and spurred him on, would he have kept going without a news appearance and so much attention? Don’t feed the trolls, we call it. But is it the best policy*? Outrage can drive change for the better, but sometimes it can make things worse. Though again, I’m not excusing his behaviour.

Whataboutery

I’m going for it, now.

While I do think holding individuals to account is a good thing to do in a civilised society if they are breaking the don’t-threaten-to-kill-people rule, why is it happening in this case – a clearly stupid, recently-bereaved, ill-mannered and insensitive teenager with a keyboard and a twitter account, threatening a minor and topical celebrity – but not others??

One thing about being a Woman On The Internet is that you are likely to come up against a lot of abuse, largely of a sexual nature, often violent, and plenty of people receive rape and death threats. Have any of these people been arrested? Sometimes individuals are threatened with the fact that the person knows their home address, or the identities/locations/movements of their loved ones.

Again, are these people held to account? *I would never tell those women to stop reporting incidents (though some seem to think that’s the more appropriate course of action) – the trolls who sit at home and think it’s acceptable to try to scare women into silence, because they don’t like them speaking their minds, should be the ones dealing with the consequences and do deserve exposure, ridicule, appropriate action. Sadly many people are too afraid or simply desensitised to do anything about it. Did I mention we’re supposed to live in a civilised society? (Star referring back to the earlier mention of not feeding the trolls; I don’t think  it’s always the best policy).

Most importantly for me, why do we still keep hearing about women who have been murdered by their partners (current or ex), having previously informed the police that they feel unsafe or have been outright threatened? Why are they not being protected?

Where are the forces when people are genuinely afraid for their lives, and possibly those of others close to them? Did Daley really feel like this kid was going to come to London, hunt him down and manage to hold his head under the surface of the Olympic pool? I highly doubt it. Again, that doesn’t make it all fine to say disgusting things to people, but it’s the credibility of the threat – much like the twitter joke trial (Paul was never, ever going to bomb the airport, ffs) that is quite important if you’re going to start arresting people.

Domestic violence and extended trolling campaigns targeted at individuals are both serious issues that affect people severely, but seem largely ignored. It doesn’t make sense to me that people who are known to the target of the abuse (e.g. partners) seem to be considered less at risk. Or stalkers let off because well, they can’t be serious. What’s going on with this?

Speculations

My cynical self is suspecting a few things wrong with this: the Olympics has already seen over 180 critical mass cyclists arrested for advancing on Olympic territory (stupid, and probably driven by a few especially stupid individuals, but heavy-handed tactics from the police again) and it’s a topical issue – Daley was watched by millions and has a spotlight on him. Most victims of abuse suffer in silence and are inconspicuous.

Daley’s a boy; we hear less about male victims of abuse online or in real life – I recently chatted with someone who was himself arrested after his mentally ill girlfriend had a session of hurling kitchen items at him. People make a lot of assumptions about situations, and abuse directed at women seems to be disproportionately expected and tolerated.

My worry is the kind of precedent this incident sets. It sits uncomfortably with me. Some more legal-savvy people have warned against making lots of statements about it – we do not know exactly what has gone on, we have likely only got part of the story here.

I’m waiting to see what happens, and I think that’s the right thing to do before making solid conclusions. It’s a springboard for a lot of debate, but can we reserve final judgment for now, please?

[Edit: further reading!

See also Index on Censorship on ‘the thrill of active netizenship’. Further discussion on the Telegraph, but I don’t think this is really a case of ‘free speech outrage’ just yet. Although here’s Pandaemonium on why it is.

More recently, Graham Linehan has put some of his thoughts down. In slight contrast, a more sweary and blunt take from vice.com. All worth reading.]

Edit again: Tom Daley parody account says what a lot of people are probably thinking, but I’d guess no prospects of success is just one of many things that drives people to lash out in the first place (largely true in my experience, anyway).

Antisocial media

So today I’ve been reading a bit more about:

How social media is destroying our brains!

One of my favourite comics noted a particular divide in society long ago (back in ‘97!); people who love technology and people who… don’t.

Technofear

Highlighted in the Guardian and the Telegraph this week, this is a story that comes up quite a lot lately.

Turkle’s thesis is simple: technology is threatening to dominate our lives and make us less human

Oh, see how teh technomologies are ruining us as a species!! (They write on their laptops, seeing through their glasses, whilst recovering from operations last week or popping an aspirin for that headache).

Give us a break.

The different kinds of communication that people are using have become something that scares people

What, it scares some people, therefore it’s evil? What is this, the dark ages? It’s a shame we’ve not come far enough to realise that fear generally just leads to prejudice and is not a sensible reason to shun technology.

It’s no new phenomenon, of course. The population has always suffered from technofear and not always from the least informed members of society. For example, even a fictional* Socrates got his toga in a twist over the arrival of books if we’re to trust his student, Plato (from Dialogues of Plato, Phaedrus, p. 275):

this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories…

Yet, amazingly, even with the ubiquitous written word, we still manage to retain a fair bit of info in our minds. Indeed, people learn tremendous amounts from articles in their many forms. It may not be everyone’s favourite medium – audiobooks, TV, seminars and so on are going strong because not everyone learns/enjoys things in the same ways. But we’d all agree books aren’t evil, I think (I guess it depends on the content!).

they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

Yeah, I know a lot of people like that too, Socrates. Funnily enough, they tend to read less.

*This looks like an interesting book; here, on the myth that led to Socrates’ character as depicted by Plato in Phaedrus - a king who refuses the gift of writing from the god Thoth, for fear of causing forgetfulness, and the origins of the ‘mnemonic’!

On the subject of interesting books, Martin has just linked me to this post by Jonah Lehrer – a review of a book called The Shallows that came out last year, exploring how the internet might be affecting our brains. Lehrer also cites Phaedrus as an early ‘technological scare’ and muses on man’s relationship with technology – in reality and fiction – the nature of multitasking and impact of video games. A highly recommended post.

Virtual Reality

The main argument seems to be that by talking to each other through the internet, people are departing from reality and suffering as a result.

it is actually isolating us from real human interactions in a cyber-reality that is a poor imitation of the real world

I’m not sure what kind of world some of these people think they live in. Do they strike up a conversation with every stranger that walks past? Have they ever travelled the London Underground? Not talking to people you don’t know isn’t considered odd. So why is talking to people you do know, who don’t happen to be in your physical vicinity, so very upsetting?

Enter examples of sitting at the dinner table, at funerals, in restaurants whilst texting. Sorry, but if someone lacks manners, that’s probably one of many manifestations and it would be easy to shake a finger at some parents…

If you didn’t turn off the TV at dinner time or explain why answering your phone in the middle of a conversation isn’t acceptable; if you didn’t catch that rudeness early, then don’t be surprised if it continues and gets worse.

But it’s not exclusively young people – far from it! I’d say 95% of the phones going off in lectures/talks belong to the more senior members of the audience, for example. Perhaps another case of lack of understanding/acceptance of technology causing more of the problems than the technology itself.

I hate these things, I keep forgetting I even have it! I don’t know it’s mine that’s ringing most of the time - we’ve all heard that one!

Yes, most of us have had a collision with someone staring at their phone. But is it any better if they’re staring at a newspaper or a book? No. Especially if you’re in the middle of the road at the time (yes, man on Clerkenwell road reading the Metro, I’m thinking of you!!). These things have always happened, they always will; it’s people, not the technology. We can moan and then laugh about it but don’t blame the gadgets, it’s pointless!

Twitter and FB don’t connect people, they isolate them from reality, say a rising number of academics – define reality
Thanks to @ for returning me to the original point of this section.

Technojoy

One of the things that irks me most about these objectors is that they so rarely seem to consider people who are incapable of that peculiar idea of  real social interaction, or at least find it difficult – due to living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for example.

I have many friends with varying degrees of Asperger’s or simply find it difficult/unpleasant to interact with people directly – that doesn’t mean they don’t like people at all or despise all forms of human contact, though.

I’ve said before that I used to prefer to be on my own, didn’t have many friends – but a busy chat room provided a comfortable environment to talk to people of a range of ages, living in different countries. Talking to people online completely rekindled my interest in humanity and social interaction as a whole.

Of course that will not be the case for everyone. But I begrudge attacks on all social media on the premise that it prevents socialising (clue’s in the name?!) and the cultivation of interpersonal skills.

I suppose the problem is getting the people who do benefit from social media in touch with those who shun it; when one group finds it hard to talk directly to people and the other will only ever do that, that’s quite a barrier.

It’s not just a benefit to autistic people, though. It’s still not a well-understood condition and, like technology itself, often feared by the ignorant. By providing such individuals with the means to talk to others and, for example, explain their reactions and feelings, other people can better understand them and learn how best to approach them as friends, which is mutually beneficial.

It can be daunting to try to talk to someone whose ideas of acceptable social actions differ from yours quite drastically – that works both ways. I know people online who are great fun to talk to because of their sense of humour and intellectual brilliance. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get to know them because I sometimes do find it much harder to talk to them ‘in real life’.

Sadly, critics of social media don’t seem to grasp this and the many other benefits of platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which I have sung the praises of before and will continue to do so.

Times, they are a-changing; move with them or be left behind!

—-

Links:

Marc Cortez‘s take on the latest complaints.

The different kinds of communication that people are using have become something that scares people

Ponderment

Apologies

Hello! Sorry for general silence of late.

Excuses: being generally busy, dealing with some things that aren’t for publishing on the internet right now, our flat flooding last week and not having caught up on lost sleep – et cetera.

This is just a quickie to let you know I’m still here (because you’re obviously flailing around as if suddenly blind in my absence) and to make a few mini-points.

Bleachgate update

Some big things have been happening lately. The BBC even covered it!

First I recommend checking up on Rhys’ blog because apparently, Mr Jim Humble himself has come out of hiding to grace the skeptical blogosphere with his presence. It’s nice to be able to engage, supposedly, with the person we’ve all been talking about at last, but the claims are as staggeringly wrong and dangerous as ever.

Spaces to watch

Righteous Indignation podcast (plus Michael‘s thoughts about it) – Jim Humble, the man himself, speaks! Keep an ear out for more exciting stuff to come…

The Lay Scientist at the Guardian. Keep an eye out for  similar treats.

Basically keep all the senses primed for bleach-related goings-on.

Social Media

A tweet from onlydanno that I saw today got me thinking:

Facebook is where you lie to people you know. Twitter is where you’re honest to strangers.

9:37 PM Oct 3rd via SimplyTweet

Twitter

Most people do just say what they think on Twitter, which is great – I love honesty, but there are now countless examples of why that can be a ‘bad‘ thing – the Twitter joke trial and Gillian McKeith’s PR idiocy, for example; I’ve also had to apologise for  accidentally offending people.

There is something lovely about it. Seeing ‘real’ thoughts, not what’s been adjusted/censored for acceptability. It’s wonderful to put something out there that perhaps you never had the guts to say before and to launch into conversations with people you’ve never met who somewhat or totally (dis)agree with you.

It has parallels with stand-up comedy (and indeed many of my favourite people to ‘follow’ are fantastic comedians – professionally and not) and I’ve mentioned before how seeing what people are thinking (e.g. twitterfalls at events) can be amusing, enlightening but also slightly disturbing.

There is after all often good reason for not saying aloud what immediately comes to mind.

The exception to this is of course the fake account; for comedy purposes or otherwise. Many Twitter accounts are semi or completely anonymous and devoted to made-up goings-on. Again some of my favourites are fabrications, characters. So the honesty of these is usually questionable if not unapplicable.

Facebook

I’m not sure I completely agree with the sentiment by itself; it’s a neat yin/yang concept,  that statement, but I don’t think it really applies to me. I don’t really lie and if I do it’s limited to the minimal and (I reckon) necessary.

Facebook is, by and large, limited to interaction with people you know. Sure you can add ‘randoms’ but the people I’ve never met, who are on my friend list, I still count as friends because we’ve been interacting online for a long time. I’ve been chatting to people I’ve not actually met through the internet for… 13 years now and I consider myself a reasonable judge of character.

</Tangent>

I think Facebook has just become quite impersonal. The group functionality has been reduced, it’s being stripped down to ‘likes’ that don’t really say much about you except that you enjoy some observational comedy – these groups always existed; the I turn my pillow over to feel the cold side! and A cup of tea makes everything better kind. But now it’s everything, from your favourite books/bands/films to activities. You can’t put it in your own words, you just like a page.

So I’d say if it is lying, it’s more by omission, having been reduced to something more universally applicable – that’s understandable, since it’s gone from being a university-based system to a worldwide phenomenon. To appeal to the masses it must cater for them. That means general sweeping statements. Perhaps I’d call it astrological social networking - make the kind of statements that are vague enough to ring true for almost everyone.

Twitbook

I use both, happily, to keep in touch with people, make new friends and share things. I guess you’d call it networking. Not everyone uses them for that, not everyone has to.

I’ve met more people ‘from Twitter’ in the last year or so than I’ve ever met ‘from the internet’ – almost all have been fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to meet like-minded individuals and so on. Socially and professionally, I think it’s brilliant.

Facebook helps me keep in touch with my friends. We all find phone calls intrusive at times, texts can be forgotten, numbers change, e-mails are plagued by spam and letter-writing seems pre-historic to most (though it’s still fun at times, it’s not good for arranging a dinner party tomorrow night).

Both allow me to access and share interesting, important, funny and pointless links to articles/videos/images etc. – I get almost all my news from social networks now and that means from a range of sources so I feel like I’m finally outside the closed network of news media (owned by a few with very specific interests) that most are stuck inside offline.

Links

So to finish, regarding my last point, here are some interesting things from my recent browsing history that I’d like to share, which you may not have seen if you follow my ranting neither on Twitter nor Facebook.

Jamie Oliver on TED – please spare 20 minutes for this. I’ve written about Jamie before and this is well worth the watch; great to see his work gain international recognition.

A calendar everyone needs to buy.

The Science is Vital campaign – please sign! Writing to your MP even better! Attending Saturday’s march: 1 million points (I can’t go, sadly).

Druidry is officially a religion. Time to go one way or the other: either everything anyone comes up with that based on nothing observably true gets religious status (and the tax breaks that go with it) or nothing gets any special treatment simply because it’s a belief system that you can’t prove is rubbish. Suggest the latter.

Creationist/ID nutters continue to infest UK.

Marmite have made some chocolate (this would be a fun birthday present, hinthint – actually never mind, I don’t want 10 bars of the stuff!!)

Turn off Facebook Places so your friends can’t tell other people where you are! This app is a bit worrying so just turn it off if you’re unsure.

I may have just written about how Twitter is more honest (and therefore perhaps a bit better) than Facebook, but I’m not sure this is really the way to redress the balance.

 

 

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