I know that most people understand what Twitter is at this point, but first, indulge me with a little background on the site:
Twitter is literally a white supremacist website. For its entire life, it has ignored mountains of racism (and every other form of abuse), because to kick off all the Nazis and hysterical racists would lower its engagement statistics in the short term.
They don’t just let people stay on the platform though, they verify tons of racists. The “verification system” has never really been just about verifying that people are using their real identity, but has always been about giving a special status to interesting/special people. That’s why Twitter stripped Milo Yhateverhisnameis of his verification as a punishment, and why you can’t just get verified by proving to them that you are posting under your real identity. Verified users also get special features added to their accounts.
So who do they choose to verify? People like this Youtube guy:
But weirdly enough, not just him, but even literal no-names, like this lady (username: a purposefulwife) who doesn’t have any identity listed on Twitter other than “Wife With A Purpose”. Her main claim to fame seems to be doing 5000 tweets about “preserving the white race and culture”, and also creating the white baby challenge. I don’t know what that was, I’m assuming it was like the ice bucket thing, except you poured buckets of white babies on your head.
Twitter has taken a lot of heat about all the racist (not to mention sexist, etc.) abuse on the platform. When Leslie Jones was chased off Twitter by a bunch of psychos, the site got a lot of heat, and Jack Dorsey reassured people that they were working on it.
But what can a site do to identify and remove users who constantly out-think the system and come up with tricky ways to evade even the most sophisticated early warning systems? Twitter paid $150M in 2016 to acquire an AI startup, so they’re probably at least using the machine learning experts from that company to come up with very advanced classifiers to spot even the trickiest of abusers right? After all, they must have hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of abuse reports to train a system like this with. Seems like this would be an easy fix right?
Just kidding, they haven’t tried at all, and here’s how I know: I searched “Lebron” and the n-word the day that Lebron James called Trump a bum, and there were a lot of tweets. I mean a lot. I actually took screencaps of a ton, but decided not to post them here, but I mean, how on Earth is this something Twitter hasn’t even bothered to deal with? Is it too hard to put in a small block of code saying “Ohhh hey if someone calls someone the n-word, how about uhh.. that gets maybe uhhh… flagged?”. Personally, I think every tweet like that should at least get flagged, but I’d say there’s about a 0.01% chance that a tweet with that word, and the name of a celebrity turns out to not be abusive, so uh.. Twitter has an index of celebrities, they verified them all.
I’m not really an expert on white supremacy , but I know it’s a system. As an example, my understanding is basically that if a restaurant opens up, and then half its customers are neo-Nazis, and they constantly yell the n-word at the other customers, and the restaurant refuses to do anything about it, and then also the restaurant has some sort of special status system like “best customer club” and they give that to a bunch of the neo-nazis, seems like you might actually say that was a white supremacist restaurant. Seems about right I think, right? So that’s why I say that Twitter is literally a white supremacist website, and everyone who makes any decisions there, especially Jack Dorsey, is a white supremacist. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, and I know he loves tweeting about rap music and stuff, but the way it works is that actually, he’s a huge white supremacist, because he literally controls an entire system and refuses to fix all the racist shit.
Okay, so enough about the background, back to the news: White supremacist social networking site Twitter is going to let some people do 280 character tweets.
I just got home from a couple of weeks in Europe. I spent most of the time in Barcelona, at the NIPS 2016 conference, and then visited Iceland for a little bit on the way home.
On the way to Spain, I had a 12 hour stopover in Iceland. The plane arrived there at 2 AM on a Sunday morning, and since I knew everything would be closed (and I was going to come back a week later, and stay for 5 days), I wasn’t sure whether it was worth it to take a bus into Reykjavik, which is 40 minutes away from Keflavik airport.
I decided to just hang around the airport, and maybe grab some sleep. Icelandic has had a huge tourism boom in the past 5 or 10 years, and I don’t think the airport has scaled very well, but I found a relatively empty area and settled down. There was a guy a few rows away from me having a fairly audible video chat, and I noticed he had a Scala sticker on his laptop, and mentioned Peter Thiel several times. I gave it a fairly good chance he was also going to NIPS. Later in the week, I thought about this guy, because although he’d fit in any sort of startup/tech meetup, after being at the conference for a few days, I wasn’t so sure he fit the NIPS crowd. My main takeaway was that I’d been pronouncing “Thiel” incorrectly.
About 2 hours into my stopover, I realized that hanging out at this cold, boring airport for another 10 hours was going to be sort of hellish, so I bought a bus ticket to downtown Reykjavik. Within an hour, I was downtown, carrying my extremely heavy carry-on bag (no wheels) and my equally heavy personal item (a leather messenger bag stuff with a laptop, a couple of cameras, battery packs, etc). I realized pretty fast that I had made a huge mistake when picking what luggage to bring, a mistake that would make me miserable for pretty much the entire trip.
A couple of months ago, before booking the trip, I asked on Twitter whether it was worth going into Reykjavik early on a Sunday morning, and a bunch of very nice, helpful people assured me that it was worth it. I don’t want to go on a tangent about the power of the Internet here, but it’s amazing what a resource it can be.
Before everybody was hooked into social networking, it would’ve been hard to find an answer to my question, but in 2016, it took maybe 20 minutes before at least 5 or 10 people had provided suggestions for things to look for, and told me that yes, it was indeed a great idea to head into town. I still find this kind of thing amazing, setting aside the fact that all these people were completely wrong. It was a terrible idea.
Reykjavik at 5 AM on a Sunday in December was cold, dark (sunrise was 11 AM), and deserted. I spent a few hours walking around, with my heavy bags, and.. I guess looked at some buildings and some ducks – I hardly remember. I did have a sandwich at some bakery. It was actually a great sandwich, and I followed it up with a big cookie, which is completely out of character for me – I guess I was trying to salvage the trip. That was actually quite a nice little moment I guess, having a pretty decadent cookie, early in the morning no less.
As I was finishing the food, I saw a very reflective piece of metal on one of the cabinets, which let me see behind the counter. There were two cheerful, friendly ladies working; I’d guess that they were students. One had just gone down some stairs with some cleaning supplies, and the other, who could easily be described as a dainty, elfy, Bjork-soundalike, took the opportunity to sit down where nobody should have been able to see her, and she gave her nose the deepest, most vigorous picking I’ve ever witnessed.
I thought later that maybe I’d seen a child pick their nose more wildly than this lady, but I don’t know if that’s actually true. Kids get a lot of runny noses, and they’re not very self conscious, and I’ve seen them do some brutal things up in those nostrils, but I think this actually may have been worse – maybe because this lady had the strength and precision of an adult. I tried to look away, but I wasn’t able – this is my fault, not hers. My only excuse is that I guess I fancy myself to be a bit of an anthropologist, and this was, in a way, an interesting look back at Iceland’s Viking heritage. I could easily imagine a group of tough sailors showing up on the Icelandic shores over 1000 years ago, surveying the land, grunting in approval, and then waiting until they had a moment alone to pillage their noses.
At around 10:30, I gave up on Reykjavik and hopped on a bus back to the airport, where I waited for 4 or 5 hours before I headed off to Barcelona.
[Continued in the next part, which is why the title of this says “Part 1” – the next part will be Part 2. There will at least be one more part after that, probably Part 3.]