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politics The Failure of Account Verification

The “blue check” – a silly colloquialism for an icon that’s not actually blue for the at least 50% of users using dark mode – has become a core aspect of the Twitter experience. It’s caught on other places too; YouTube and Twitch have both borrowed elements from it. It seems like it should be simple. It’s a binary badge; some users have it and others don’t. And the users who have it are designated as… something.

In reality it’s massively confused. The first problem is that “something”: it’s fundamentally unclear what the significance of verification is. What does it mean? What are the criteria for getting it? It’s totally opaque who actually makes the decision and what that process looks like. And what does “the algorithm” think about it; what effects does it actually have on your account’s discoverability?

This mess is due to a number of fundamental issues, but the biggest one is Twitter’s overloading the symbol with many conflicting meanings, resulting in a complete failure to convey anything useful.

xkcd twitter_verification

History of twitter verification🔗

Twitter first introduced verification in 2009, when baseball man Tony La Russa sued Twitter for letting someone set up a parody account using his name. It was a frivolous lawsuit by a frivolous man who has since decided he’s happy using Twitter to market himself, but Twitter used the attention to announce their own approach to combating impersonation on Twitter: Verified accounts.

politics The Génocidaires: People

Eugenicists need broad centrist support🔗

Now, a lot of people pushing the anti-trans agenda aren’t actually murderers or overt political fascists. The extremists are still the extremists. Moderates sustain these genocidal movements, but they don’t drive them. Unlike the center, the people who rise to the top are always the ones drawn to the movement because of its viciousness. It still matters, though, whether the people towards the middle are willing to help them or not.

It’s still true that legislators and anti-trans activists are not pursuing moderate treatment (psychotherapy, etc); they’re distinctly aiming for obliteration. But that message only works for people who agree with those people openly willing to back genocide outright, or people who can agree with the lampshade.

Even most of the republicans don’t actually know the people they’re voting for are full-on cuckoo-bananas. But the “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” types end up pushing this agenda, even if they’re unaware. People see a ballot where one choice describes a more convenient world for them, and they tick it. They’re not supposed to think about the violence it takes to make that happen.

People like framing the idea of pride like they frame the abolition of slavery or civil rights: as a celebration of a positive political change that happened in history, rather than an ongoing conflict. As soon as pride feels like a conflict, it feels like a conflict they’re on a side of, because they are.

r/pansexual: You're not welcomed

Buying the euphemism🔗

A lot of the people helping propel the cause of genocide don’t actually believe in the case for genocide; the genocidalists depend heavily on people buying the euphemism. That’s another topic I want to do a longer piece on someday, but here’s a brief summary on how rhetoric works on marks.

The mark says they don’t want children to be abused. Now, the people pushing the anti-abuse laws don’t care about children being abused, and their laws don’t prevent abuse, but anti-abuse is the euphemism they’re using to disguise their intents, and the mark agrees with that euphemism, so they think they must agree with the policy. In effect, the fascist hijacks the legitimate cause, just like they hijack institutions.

Even though the marks would, in isolation, be opposed to the real agenda of genocide, they believe enough in the cover story that they show up to support the genocidal cause.

The Shirley Exception🔗

Another key factor in why people support policies they disagree with is the so-called Shirley Exception. Transphobic culture and legislation are both perceived as uncomfortable and inconvenient for a few people – adding some hoops they have to jump through – but they’re usually not seen as being explicitly genocidal.

politics The Génocidaires: Exterminationism

Okay. We looked at law. Let’s keep looking. Let’s gaze straight at the horrors until our stomachs churn and our eyes bleed.

Rhetoric background info🔗

Before we get too deep into the craziness, I want to explain a couple common talking points.

The Social Contagion lie & Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria🔗

In real life, the scary sounding “social contagion” is just the study of the propagation of ideas across a social network, more commonly known as memetics. As applied to transgender people though, “social contagion” is the conspiracy theory that transgenderism is an invented evil that is being spread to children through education and social media. This idea helps keeps people from seeing trans exterminationism as a true genocide: transgender people aren’t a “real” group of people, they’re actually an effect of people being tricked by “biased out-of-control transgender activists”, psychiatrists, scheming liberals, a cabal of elite pedophiles, or just Satan himself.

Ross Douthat, “How to Make Sense of the New L.G.B.T.Q. Culture War”, NYT op-ed What we’re seeing today isn’t just a continuation of the gay rights revolution; it’s a form of social contagion which our educational and medical institutions are encouraging and accelerating. These kids aren’t setting themselves free from the patriarchy; they’re under the influence of online communities of imitation and academic fashions laundered into psychiatry and education — one part Tumblr and TikTok mimesis, one part Judith Butler.

At first this seems like the same basic myth as the debunked Homosexuality as Contagion false narrative now understood as the left-handed fallacy: the real cause for the increase in visibility is of course reduced social stigma and advancements in social and legal recognition. But the contagion myth has been recently “legitimized” by the pseudo-medical label of Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria, describing a phenomenon where “children seemed to experience a sudden or rapid onset of gender dysphoria, appearing for the first time during puberty or even after its completion” correlating with “an increase in social media/internet use.” The only paper in the medical literature about Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria is the one that invents the diagnosis: Lisa Littman’s Rapid-onset gender dysphoria in adolescents and young adults: A study of parental reports.

Littman’s study has been widely discredited by actual medical doctors – a thing Littman is not – for pulling numbers from online straw polls in order to claim discovery of a brand new disease without even attempting to assess single case of it. The real fatal flaw, though, is right in the title: it’s a study of parental reports, where untrained parties not actually afflicted by the alleged condition are asked to assess its existence in people, who in many cases are actively motivated to conceal it for fear of abuse or rejection. Worse, due to the ultrapartisan anti-transgender bias of the websites on which the polls were conducted (4thwavenow, transgender trend, and youthtranscriticalprofessionals. No, seriously.), the data was from parents who were already upset about their children coming out as trans and looking for an external, pathological factor to blame.

politics The Génocidaires: Laws

So, we’ve talked broad strokes. Here’s where we start seeing specific policies emerge as part of the agenda.

Genocide as a core of the platform🔗

In the last year or so the mainstream political attitude towards transgender people has gone from generalized bigotry to trans genocide becoming a pillar of the republican political platform.

Right off the bat, here’s Trump boosting the “activist teachers are infecting your children” social contagion rhetoric while emphasizing “parents’ rights” to… keep their children from wanting to be trans, I guess? To raucous applause, of course:

The republican party loves the tribalist us-vs-them mentality. When the democrats are painted categorically as sexual predators and threats to children, family, and the American way, that only helps them. Here’s Rebecca Boone connecting some of the dots in “Right-wing extremists amp up anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online”:

A toxic brew of hateful rhetoric has been percolating in Idaho and elsewhere around the U.S., well ahead of the arrests of the Patriot Front members at the pride event Saturday in Coeur d’Alene.

A “massive right-wing media ecosystem” has been promoting the notion that “there are people who are trying to take your kids to drag shows, there are trans people trying to ‘groom’ your children,” [extremism researcher] Lewis said.

The rhetoric has been amplified by right-wing social media accounts that use photos and videos of LGBTQ individuals to drive outrage among their followers.

Because I literally can’t write fast enough to keep up with the horrors, here’s the Texas GOP Report of the Permanent 2022 Platform & Resolutions Committee. As of 2022, the core platform (which is a hodgepodge of christian nationalist nonsense, in addition these bits) includes:

politics The Génocidaires: Intro

Genocide. It’s a big word. It describes possibly the worst atrocity the institution of society can commit. It’s so mind-bogglingly terrible that a staple holocaust denial argument is that it was simply too bad to have really happened.

Genocide is such a big word that I didn’t title this “The Case for Genocide”, even though that’s what it’s about: the case people actually make for genocide, here, today.

“Genocide”, definition, semiotics🔗

It’s counterintuitively difficult to talk about genocide because of how thoroughly the word has become shorthand for pure evil. So first, let’s define the word itself. The United States Holocaust Museum has an excellent page on the definition of the word here:

Genocide is an internationally recognized crime where acts are committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

This is the “narrow definition” found in the 1948 Genocide Convention, written as a response to World War II and the atrocities of the holocaust. Modern groups like Genocide Watch classify other genocidal crimes like ethnic cleansing and political mass murder as genocide.

Genocide literally means “to kill a tribe”, or “to kill a population”. It has the -cide suffix, meaning to kill, but the “geno” is a population. The crime is the extermination of a group, not just the murder of its members. So, if someone decides that they want to make a thing no longer exist, and that thing is a kind of person, executing on that belief is genocide.

In practice, genocide is not just the crime of the act, but also the agenda. Directly killing members of the group is one act of a genocide, but so is “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part” or “Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group” – economic oppression and eugenics, respectively. Genocide is “a coordinated plan to annihilate the individual lives of a targeted national group through disintegration of the institutions of culture, economics, language, religion, and destruction of other essential foundations of personal security, liberty, and dignity”. In addition to the effects of the act, there is also a premeditation on behalf of the organizers and drivers of the agenda.

This usually maps well to a political faction, but it isn’t necessarily driven by one particular authority: James Glass’s paper talks about the “Idea as leader” in the psychology of genocide: that the ideology is a kind of shared fantasy in a psychological space, and that Rousseau’s “fervour of intolerance” can be amplified in willed belief and enthusiastic participation in an idea greater than oneself.

There are obvious examples of genocide, both historical (like Nazi Germany) and current: the ongoing Uyghur genocide in China, but also cases where it’s not yet generally understood that a genocide event is even occurring.

(Trans people. I’m talking about trans people.)

I shouldn’t need to explain how genocide works in practice. How it starts with “us vs them” ingroup/outgroup polarization, how it’s used by authoritarians to pin the blame on their own failings or unavoidable facts of life on subgroups that can be demonized and persecuted, how the importance of national identity becomes prioritized above the people who make up the nation, how the outgroup is made to be recognizable and distinguishable in order to facilitate attack, how the definition of that subgroup shifts to meet the political needs of the people in power, how the perpetrators dehumanize the outgroup with language that equates them with animals, filth, and disease in order to numb human empathy, how the dominant ingroup wields political and societal power to deny the victims full rights of citizenship, and how the victims are ultimately persecuted, displaced, deported, or killed (extrajudicially or otherwise). Above all, the unabashed cruelty that ensues. You should know this. After the 20th century, all educated people should know this.

So here it is. A genocide is happening right now in America and Europe against trans people with the goal of eradicating the population. So let’s take a good, hard look at it. Let’s really crack this egg open.

politics people who know more than me talk about Epic acquiring Bandcamp

March 2, 2022: Bandcamp puts out a press release about their “joining” Epic Games. This follows in a line of eerily similar acquisitions of companies catering to indies, namely Sketchfab and ArtStation.

There are lots of interesting topics intersecting here:

  • Venture capital and the associated perverse incentives
  • Antitrust and general issues with corporate consolidations
  • The takeover of existing institutions, especially technical infrastructure
  • The false narrative of corporations as indie and non-corporate
  • Epic vs Apple and problems of platform monopoly
  • Bandcamp’s correct but rare approach to piracy, which is endangered

I’ll talk more about those some day, don’t worry. For now, though, have some tweets.

politics Winners and Losers

I can’t write about antitrust. There’s too much to talk about. So I have to break the idea down, way down, to something manageable. I’m going to chew on one phrase here, “the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers.” It’s a favourite of the pro-monopoly types and it almost sounds reasonable, so let’s think about it for like a minute.

First, when pro-monopoly types say “the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers”, what they’re picturing as the “win state” is market domination. They don’t see it as a bad thing, because they feel that success correlates with virtue, so if a corporation beats out its competitors that’s because it was right and good. We know what it’s like when corporations actualize on this; complete market domination, customers have no option but to go through you, it’s impossible to start competing against you. 100% domination, company towns, corporate rule. But that theoretical “win state” is the answer to the question of what corporations “want”.

“Corporations”, as entities, are little optimizing robots. Executives and boards and shareholders are the cogs and wires, but the thing they come together to form is something of an entirely different nature, something artificial. This is intentional; people want corporate entities instead of humans specifically because corporate entities and humans are different. Corporations last, corporations have a focused goal, corporations have that machinery to scale and pursue it effectively. That thing they form is a very primitive artificial intelligence that uses its cogs and wires to pursue a specific goal.

And the thing they aspire to, the thing they try to maximize, is market share. Revenue is great, but market share prints money. And, in theory, when nobody is cheating or exploiting or being anticompetitive, this actually works. Corporations compete against each other for customers, customers pick the best products, innovation disrupts markets, yadda yadda.

But of course that doesn’t happen with cheats at the helms of these companies. And – as with any model, sport, or competition – without enforced regulation the market rewards the cheats. And what it rewards them with is power to charge more, power to make exploitative products, and ultimately power to keep competition from disrupting them.

In an environment where corporate crime is tightly prosecuted and nobody is “light on crime” even when it comes to the wealthy and powerful, this doesn’t happen. Cut out the cancer and you heal the body.

But keeping companies from being exploitive would be “picking winners and losers”! And that’s obviously wrong, they whine.

Now, in addition to what the words mean and what the states look like, the language “winners and losers” is also absurd because it spins the conversation with an undue emotional connotation. “It’s not fair for you to regulate companies such that they might lose money, because they’ve earned it.” Poor little guy. They’re hurt, and we’re stealing from them. Except no, that’s obviously a lie. Corporations aren’t people, they don’t have emotions or feel pain, they’re organizational structures composed of individuals who are not unduly harmed by antitrust regulation.

The actual humans in this equation, the only party anywhere near this question who we should worry about harming, are the consumers. The people, who depend on access to food and medical supplies and technology. The people who are actually harmed by monopoly, requiring antitrust in the first place!

Antitrust isn’t punishment, it’s correction of situation that has gone wrong. It’s fixing a machine that is producing undesirable results. It’s a correction to the AI’s value function; there was an undesirable outcome that was accidently being rewarded. The regulatory response needs to be either “whoops, you found a new way to hurt people we haven’t made illegal yet, let’s patch that” or “whoops, you’re overtly committing crimes, and there is a consequence for that because that is what rule of law means.”

The scoundrel is the one who makes the argument that because he got away with hurting people at a profit once, to stop him now would be unfair to him. Doing right by people is bad for his business model, so it’s impossible to say who’s right or not. It’s a transparent excuse for politicians who don’t personally agree with the law because they like the company, or like the money they spend to pick the company as the winner by means of policy drift.

The question of winners and losers doesn’t matter because what “winning” is for corporations is bad, per se. Corporations are artificial creations who perform by setting goals and pushing themselves toward them. And that (competition) is enormously beneficial! But just because some state is the best thing for a nonhuman entity doesn’t mean that should happen. In fact, every way in which that state is different from one that prioritizes people is a compelling argument against it.

politics Alma Mater

I went to my old university today.1 I wanted to use the library.

It was a strange experience. There were things about my time there I missed, but I didn’t miss my time there. There was too much wrong. Ways I didn’t fit.

I looked around. It was passing period, and there was a throng of students coming and going both ways. The pavement was nice, new construction. People were laughing and talking and introducing each other.

Was I wrong? Should I be missing this? There is still so much good here. So I asked myself what it was I saw, exactly. And I looked out.

politics Client CSAM scanning: a disaster already

On August 5, 2021, Apple presented their grand new Child Safety plan. They promised “expanded protections for children” by way of a new system of global phone surveillance, where every iPhone would constantly scan all your photos and sometimes forward them to local law enforcement if it identifies one as containing contraband. Yes, really.

August 5 was a Thursday. This wasn’t dumped on a Friday night in order to avoid scrutiny, this was published with fanfare. Apple really thought they had a great idea here and expected to be applauded for it. They really, really didn’t. There are almost too many reasons this is a terrible idea to count. But people still try things like this, so as much as I wish it were, my work is not done. God has cursed me for my hubris, et cetera. Let’s go all the way through this, yet again.

The architectural problem this is trying to solve🔗

Believe it or not, Apple actually does address a real architectural issue here. Half-heartedly addressing one architectural problem of many doesn’t mean your product is good, or even remotely okay, but they do at least do it. Apple published a 14 page summary of the problem model (starting on page 5). It’s a good read if you’re interested in that kind of thing, but I’ll summarize it here.

politics Ethical Source is a Crock of Hot Garbage

There’s this popular description of someone “having brain worms”. It invokes the idea of having your mind so thoroughly infested with an idea to the point of disease. As with the host of an infestation, such a mind is poor-to-worthless at any activity other than sustaining and spreading the parasite.

A “persistent delusion or obsession”. You know, like when you think in terms of legality so much you can’t even make ethical evaluations anymore, or when you like cops so much you stop being able to think about statistics, or the silicon valley startup people who try to solve social problems with bad technology, or the bitcoin people who responded to the crisis in Afghanistan by saying they should just adopt bitcoin. “Bad, dumb things”. You get the idea.

And, well.

Okay, so let’s back way up here, because this is just the tip of the iceberg of a story that needs years of context. I’ll start with the most recent event here, the Mastodon tweet.

The Mastodon Context🔗

The “he” Mastodon is referring to is ex-president-turned-insurrectionist Donald Trump, who, because his fellow-insurrectionist friends and fans are subject to basic moderation policies on most of the internet, decided to start his own social network, “Truth Social”. In contrast to platforms moderated by the “tyranny of big tech”, Truth Social would have principles of Free Speech, like “don’t read the site”, “don’t link to the site”, “don’t criticise the site”, “don’t use all-caps”, and “don’t disparage the site or us”. There are a lot of problems here already, but because everything Trump does is terrible and nobody who likes him can create anything worthwhile, instead of actually making a social networking platform, they just stole Mastodon wholesale.

Mastodon is an open-source alternative social networking platform. It’s licensed under an open license (the AGPLv3), so you are allowed to clone it and even rebrand it for your own purposes as was done here. What you absolutely are not allowed to do is claim the codebase is your own proprietary work, deliberately obscure the changes you made to the codebase, or make any part of the AGPL-licensed codebase (including your modifications) unavailable to the public. All of which Truth Social does.

So that’s the scandal. And so here’s Mastodon poking some fun at that.