Silo Stories that should Encourage Owning Our Content on the Open Web

created Dec 5, 2017

#todo - edit - word count 3801. reading time: 21 minutes. does this post need to be that long?

These two stories were published in early December 2017.

Mediagazer headline for the BuzzFeed story:

Trolls got a reporter's account locked over an old joke, revealing how Twitter's rules can be exploited and how high-profile users get better customer support

http://www.buzzfeed.com/katienotopoulos/how-trolls-locked-my-twitter-account-for-10-days-and-welp

https://www.thedailybeast.com/women-are-getting-banned-from-facebook-for-calling-men-scum

Hello IndieWeb concepts.

The IndieWeb is about owning your domain, using it as your primary identity to publish on your own site (optionally syndicate elsewhere), and owning your data.

http://sawv.org/indieweb.html

The BuzzFeed and Daily Beast stories are brilliant examples of why people should own their content. They should buy their own domain names, create their own websites, publish to their own websites first, and optionally, syndicate to social media.

If Twitter or Facebook objects to the content and removes the content or deactivates the accounts, the users still own their content on their own domain names, and they can continue posting on their own websites.

But it requires readers or followers to visit the authors' websites. Or readers would have to old-school it by consuming RSS feeds. Maybe micro.blog is the future.

If authors used a CMS-hosted solution to manage their websites, such as WordPress.com, Blogger.com, Tumblr.com, Medium.com, Ghost.org, then it's still possible that those content-hosting providers could deactivate the user accounts.

If authors used a server-hosted solution, such as Dreamhost, Digital Ocean, or Amazon Web Services where authors had to install web publishing software, then it's still possible that those server-hosting providers could deactivate the server accounts for the authors.

What's worse, however, is that in 2017, we know that domain name registrars, such as Go Daddy and Network Solutions, can seize domain names from the owners (renters), and domain name registrars can prevent people from buying domain names. Shocking. This should never be the case.

At least we have Tor where authors can host .onion sites on computers in their own homes, bypassing domain registrars, server-hosting providers, CMS-hosting providers, and silo owners.

But calling people "scum" and making odd, contextual jokes like "kill all white people" will not cause server-hosting providers, like Digital Ocean, to cancel authors' accounts. And it's unlikely that CMS-hosted solutions at Blogger, WordPress.com, Tumblr, and Svbtle would deactivate accounts for the same content.

Authors have more freedom when publishing to their own websites. But the network effect and discovery are allegedly less likely for authors who publish on their own domain names.

If authors wish to use silos, such as Twitter and Facebook, then the authors need to realize that they do not have free speech rights. The authors need to realize that they are under the control of those silo providers. The authors need to realize that they have submitted themselves to the silos, and those authors should to stop bitching about the choices that they have made, regarding how they publish to the web.

These stories show that the personal publishers need to pay more attention to the open web and spend less time in the silos.

Authors can use the silos as syndication endpoints and maybe discussion areas, but the authors should host all of their public content on their own domain names. Uploading photos and videos, however, to the authors' own websites may be more complex than publishing text posts.

I still rely on Flickr to host my images that I embed into my web posts at sawv.org. I created my own image uploading web app that I use occasionally, but I need to hone it some more. The problem is disk space usage. The key is backing up the images at home to thumb drives or DVDs for long-term storage. And downloading the markup for my text posts for backup too.

Authors need to exert more effort to own their content on their own websites. But the resulting freedom from web design to the content outweighs the negatives of managing a website.

In my opinion, the server-hosted solution offers the most freedom, but it requires the most work.

A CMS-hosted solution at Ghost, WordPress, or Svbtle would require:

Some CMS-hosting providers provide authors with little to no ability to customize their website looks. WordPress as a CMS-hosted solution provides authors with the freedom to customize the site on the client-side and on the server.

Customizing the look of the website is optional. Authors can use the CMS-hosting provider defaults, but authors might enjoy making their websites look unique.

With a CMS-hosted solution, the hosting company takes care of the sys admin and programming duties for the serves and the publishing software. Authors can focus on the look of their sites, and more importantly, authors can focus on their content.

IndieWeb capabilities exist as WordPress plugins, but I'm unsure if these plugins would be available for authors who choose to host their sites on WordPress.com servers. These plugins may only be available if authors choose a server-hosted solution and download and install WordPress software.

But buying a domain name and pointing it to an account hosted on WordPress.com servers is a good, safe, and easy start for most authors. This setup will probably satisfy most authors' needs. More advanced or complex needs and freedoms would require a server-hosted solution, which is more technical to manage.

http://sawv.org/2016/10/07/defining-open-web-and-silos.html

BuzzFeed story

Excerpts from the BuzzFeed story that sounds more like media whining. The author of the story had the issue.

My own experience getting mass-reported for an old tweet reveals how Twitter's rules can be exploited.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, I awoke to my personal nightmare: I had been reported for abuse on Twitter (my favorite thing to look at while I crap), and my account was frozen.

I doubt that the person only uses Twitter in the bathroom. Since the person is a journalist, I'm assuming that person uses Twitter a lot.

A few days before, I got a flood of replies to an old tweet from 2011 that said “kill all white people”.

I don't understand those kind of posts even if they are suppose to be jokes. But again, this is why people should own their content on their own websites and syndicate elsewhere. It still means that the person would have her Twitter account suspended until the tweets get deleted, but at least the original content remains on her personal website, hopefully along with the other posts that put the joke in context.

I’m sure in 2011 I thought this was a funny joke (look carefully, and you will notice the Ironic Capitalization) ...

Huh? I don't get the alleged irony. She tweeted in 2011:

@elzw Kill All White People

I'm missing the ironic capitalization. What's ironic about it?

When I opened Twitter, I was prompted to delete 5 offending tweets. The first was "kill all men" – puzzling, since that wasn't even one of the tweets that the trolls had been replying to.

Twitter gives you an option to appeal if you think your account was locked in error. I believed this was clearly a mistake, so I filed my appeal. And then I waited. 10 days.

During this time, I couldn’t look at Twitter.

Huh? I'm pretty sure that she could view individual user Twitter feeds when not logged into Twitter. I do that occasionally. I can read the Twitter feed of local meteorologist Ryan Wichman without being logged into Twitter.

It might not be as easy as following her feed of followed users, but it seems like an incorrect statement to say that she couldn't look at Twitter.

Locked, as opposed to suspended, is a purgatory where your account still exists and people can view it, but you can’t tweet, read your timeline, or access DMs.

Journalists have created an environment where they believe that they MUST use Twitter to survive. It seems like if they don't use Twitter, then they are not journalists.

It is not a secret that Twitter has a two-tiered system, where celebrities and verified users can get support in ways that the unwashed masses don’t. This isn’t because there’s some special second technical system for important accounts, just that the more access and influence you have, the greater your ability to talk to a Twitter employee — not just a contractor doing customer support — to get help.

Yeah, so what? That's not news. It's probably that way with a lot of websites that freely accept user-contributed content.

Free. Users forget that they use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for free. Why do they expect royal treatment when they don't pay for the service?

... for so many who’re serially abused on the platform ...

So I waited. Thanksgiving passed. I actually talked to my family instead of hiding in the bathroom to look at Twitter. It wasn’t so bad! I read headlines in the Apple News app (and the BuzzFeed News app, of course). I remained blissfully unaware of the often toxic conversation that was surrounding the news.

Twitter’s abuse policy is so flaky that the platform couldn’t seem to decide if my tweets broke the rules or not.

The inconsistencies dredged up a few questions about moderation — namely, in the precious few moments a Twitter Trust and Safety moderator had with my report, what exactly were they evaluating? Did they look only at the words in my tweet? Or did they look at the whole picture, including: What were the types of accounts that were making the reports?

The appeal form tells you it takes “several days” for the support team to handle your request. After ten days, I got an email from Twitter saying they rejected my appeal. The “locked” status would remain, and my only option was to delete the tweet.

Once I had received my verdict from Twitter support, I had no choice by to move forward and delete the tweets. With a heavy heart, I had to say goodbye to my beloved children (my tweets).

I’m not mad that the system works slightly differently for the president than it does for me. He also gets to drive through red lights on his motorcade and I’m not bitching about that. But the way Twitter decides what stays and what goes seems to be pretty arbitrary.

Again, so what? It's Twitter's site, not the users'.

Twitter has been trying to figure out how to deal with abuse and harassment for the better part of two years now, and it continues to be a real shitshow with no clear fix in sight.

The author describes Twitter as:

Yet she CHOOSES to use Twitter. And she complains about how Twitter functions even though she uses Twitter for free.

If that was my opinion of a web service, then I wouldn't use it.

The author, like many Twitter users, needs to stop blaming Twitter and blame herself.

If she's a tech journalist, how often has she written about the IndieWeb or the open web and returning to a time when people published on their own websites and readers consumed the info by visiting those websites directly or by using RSS readers?

If website owners do not wish to host a commenting system because of the work required to moderate out trolls and spammers, then try Webmentions, maybe combined with IndieAuth. Erect more barriers to improve the discussion quality.

Or for comments, rely on a lo-fi system of providing an email address.

It's a slower way to create, share, and consume content and to reply to content. But how much information can we consume? How do we have time for anything else?

Maybe we need the Slow Web Movement where we consume less but better content, and we don't waste time firing off emotional responses to everything that we read.

I wonder if this BuzzFeed tech writer has championed anything like that?

More from the BuzzFeed article:

Maybe they should treat it like an old school messageboard where community managers act fast and loose with the banhammer, doling it out without question.

That's how I have acted sometimes over the nearly 15 years of managing the small, local message board toledotalk.com.

The author provided the following link in the above paragraph:

https://theoutline.com/post/2437/who-banned-roger-stone

The BuzzFeed writer concludes her article with too much whining.

But for now, Twitter is getting played. They’re trying to crack down on the worst of Twitter by applying the rules to everyone, seemingly without much context. But by doing that, they’re allowing those in bad faith to use Twitter’s reporting system and tools against those operating in good faith. Twitter’s current system relies on a level playing field. But as anyone who understands the internet knows all too well, the trolls are always one step ahead.

And if you are going to play on the same field as the trolls, and if you have little to no control over that field of play, then you'll have to accept the environment.

Another option is to choose not to use Twitter, or at least choose to use it differently, maybe after posting content to personal domain names first.

My ToledoTalk.com message board

I launched this small, local message board in January 2003, thirteen months before Facebook began.

Excerpts from my posting guidelines at Toledo Talk.

http://toledotalk.com/cgi-bin/tt.pl/article/29799/Lewiki-Posting-Guidelines

Free Speech

ToledoTalk.com is NOT a free speech zone.

Some people think they should be allowed to post whatever they want on a message board that's owned and funded by someone else. And if these users are denied the ability to post whatever and however they want, then they believe the site owner is engaged in censorship. That's all wrong thinking.

I'll let other Toledo Talk users explain how it works.

photodan said in April 2005:

"jr has every right to make this site as closed or even as censored as he wants it to be. If he decided that the word, "it" was not allowed to be posted then that is his right. This is not free speech. We are only allowed to post here at jr's whim since he's the one paying for it. He owns the space we are scrawling upon."

psyche777 said in June 2005:

"There is no such thing as free speech on message boards -- they are controlled by those who own them. So unless you own your own? pretty much have to play by whatever rules exist."

Equal Rights

ToledoTalk.com is NOT an equal rights zone.

September 2009 comment in a thread that technically violated these posting guidelines:

I'll admit to a favorable bias toward long-time, active contributors. More leeway exists for those gold members. If a new user had made a similar post, the thread probably would been removed.

Posting anonymously

Toledo Talk supports posting with an anonymous handle. More thoughts on the subject. Some excerpts:

About anonymous postings, I think it's simple. It's a matter of choice and freedom, and the responsibility belongs to the reader and not the poster. If you don't like anonymous postings, then you have the freedom of choice to ignore such postings. You have the freedom to move on. If user A wants to post his or her real name, place of employment, job title, shoe size, etc., that's user A's business.

Maybe over time as people get more comfortable with posting on the Web, users will share their real identities. But let that happen naturally. Don't force the issue.

Daily Beast article

Women had accounts banned from Facebook for responding to male trolls with sentences like ‘men are trash,’ in part because the company classifies white men as a protected group.

I'm confident that blogging that same content at Blogger, WordPress, Ghost, Svbtle, etc. would not lead to banned accounts at those services.

When comic Marcia Belsky sarcastically replied “men are scum” to a friend’s Facebook post back in October, she never anticipated being banned from the platform for 30 days. That was exactly what happened.

People who use Twitter and Facebook are not consumers. They are the products being sold to advertisers, especially at Facebook.

http://sawv.org/2017/09/19/facebook-is-a-surveillance-and-advertising-network.html

http://sawv.org/2017/05/16/more-stories-about-facebooks-creepy-tracking-system.html

Facebook users freely submit themselves to Facebook's algorithms and posting guidelines.

https://jekyll-indieweb-and-friends.herokuapp.com/#3

Platforms and Algorithms

"62.5 percent of users had no idea the algorithm controlling their feed existed" - Zeynep Tufekci

Back to the Daily Beast article:

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, countless women have taken to Facebook to express their frustration and disappointment with men and have been promptly shut down or silenced, banned from the platform for periods ranging from one to seven days.

Women have posted things as bland as “men ain’t shit,” “all men are ugly,” and even “all men are allegedly ugly” and had their posts removed. They’ve been locked out of their accounts for suggesting that, since “all men are ugly,” country music star Blake Shelton “winning the sexiest man isn’t a triumph.”

Wow. I don't blame Facebook. I blame the users for relying heavily on silos, although they were probably ignorant of how silos functioned prior to these incidents. But now they should be aware of how silos work.

These Facebook users need a tech journalist, like the one at BuzzFeed, to inform them about the positives of publishing to the open web.

Kayla Avery, a comedian in Boston said she’s been banned close to 10 times by Facebook and is currently serving out the end of her third 30-day ban.

One of the first times she got banned was when her page was flooded with male trolls calling her derogatory and sexist terms. Avery posted “men continue to be the worst” she said, because she said she “felt helpless to stop their hate.”

Helpless? That's probably due to using a silo. I don't understand, and I do understand.

Less technical people find Facebook and Twitter incredibly easy to use. Facebook provides a ton of useful features.

Using the open web may require more technical expertise, but we learn many other things.

I don't understand subjecting oneself to trolls and being helpless to do anything.

In late November, after the issue was raised in a private Facebook group of nearly 500 female comedians, women pledged to post some variation of “men are scum” to Facebook on Nov. 24 in order to stage a protest. Nearly every women who carried out the pledge was banned.

Bloggers organized group protests or rallies online back in the early to mid-aughts. Granted, they probably didn't reach as many readers as possible with Facebook, but that's the rub.

If users use Facebook for maximum exposure, then they should know that it comes with consequences beyond their control.

The problem has become so widespread that Avery even created a website to document these women’s tales. The site, FacebookJailed.com, shares women’s experiences of being punished by Facebook for making benign comments about men or standing up to trolls, sometimes juxtaposed with Facebook’s inaction against men who have hurled insults or racial slurs back.

It's nice that they created a website on the open web, but the site is difficult to use. Maybe it's still under development. Oh, with JavaScript disabled, the site only displays a blank page. Therefore the website does not support the open web. Small moves, I guess. At least they considered buying a domain name and creating their own website. That's a start.

“Comedian and writer Rae Sanni has been targeted by nazi trolls who hurled dozens of threatening and violent messages and comments at her for days,” a recent post reads. “Rae Sanni was banned by Facebook while her abusers are free to say sh*t like this without being in violation of community standards.” The post features screenshots provided by Sanni where Facebook does not deem comments calling her the N-word hate speech.

I cannot explain Facebook's actions other than it's their website, and they can pretty much do whatever they want.

When reached for comment a Facebook spokesperson said that the company is working hard to remedy any issues related to harassment on the platform and stipulated that all posts that violate community standards are removed.

Hey, I just thought of something. Last decade and early this decade, some media websites switched from their own custom commenting system to Facebook comments because Facebook's real-name policy fostered more civil discussions.

Trolls and harassment have been occurring on Facebook and in comment sections of sites that rely on Facebook comments for many years. We knew that it was a myth long ago that Facebook comments provided more civil discussions.

Barriers provide more civil discussions. Don't make it easy for users to post content. That weeds out the trolls and spammers. Good design does not always imply making something easier to use.

With how I manage ToledoTalk.com, good design is erecting many barriers that make it hard for users to create an account and to post content. That has made Toledo Talk a more civil place to hold discussions than probably any local Facebook page.

But Facebook wants traffic because Facebook depends upon ad revenue. Facebook wants to make it easy for anyone and anything to post content.

When asked why a statement such as “men are scum” would violate community standards, a Facebook spokesperson said that the statement was a threat and hate speech toward a protected group and so it would rightfully be taken down.

A threat and hate speech??? Holy crap.

As ProPublica revealed in an investigation in June, white men are listed as a protected group by the platform. A Facebook spokesperson clarified that this is because all genders, races, and religions are all protected characteristics under Facebook’s current policy.

Female comedians have speculated that it’s internalized misogyny on the behalf of Facebook’s content moderation team that leads to punishment such as banning to be doled out unequally.

I wouldn't want to create a scenario where my online identity relies on moderators. That's what happens when people don't manage their own websites.

Anyway, that Daily Beast article continues for several more paragraphs, but I've grown bored with this too-long post.

It's a sad and unfortunate situation occurring on the social media silos, but it's an opportunity to promote the open web and to encourage more people to own their content on their own domain names.