24 July 2018

Dropped a Pin in my Coffee on Twitter

The Painful Sting of Spam

When I posted my Ko-Fi link to Twitter and pinned it to the top, I was very surprised by the response it got. It got a number of likes, and even a few retweets. I was very appreciative of this. Unfortunately, it also got replies in the form of spam. A self-proclaimed artist who steals most of his assets and then slaps his own name on them has a habit of posting spam links on forums on Thingiverse. He's been banned from Thingiverse at least twice by now, and had some of his models taken down on other sites for violating the Creative Commons agreements on his stolen assets. I've written about him several times and talked with many of the artists he's ripped off. I've openly mocked him, for which I make no apology, and he's done absolutely nothing to prove me wrong. 

There was retribution, however. It's extremely petty retribution, but annoying in its toxicity nonetheless. 

The way many sites handle spam is not to delete the comment so much as obfuscate it. The first time I saw this was on DeviantART, when I was dealing with an art thief and all-around bully who didn't quite understand how comments worked. What would normally have gone in a private message or even the main comment thread on my profile page went straight onto my most recent upload. I didn't want to outright delete the comment because that would leave a "comment deleted by artist" label, which looks really tacky and potentially makes it look like I'm censoring criticism rather than cleaning up spam. The matter's academic by now since DeviantART handles comments a little differently since then, and this particular individual had been banned before for similar behavior, so now those comments have their own special sort of "There Once Was a Hole Here" label. In short, he's gone and I get to save face. 

Bringing it all back to the semi-current situation (I did this circa October of last year and kind of forgot about it until today while rearranging my Wordpress page), this spammer replied to my pinned tweet about my Ko-Fi page with his own damn site. Now, you would think I could simply delete a tweet that is a reply to my own post, but Twitter isn't set up that way; every reply is a comment unto itself, so to speak. This isn't necessarily a problem, except that when it comes to spam, what I would hope should be an obvious thing to spot, Twitter likes to give the benefit of the doubt a little too much. It's funny to me how much people complain about Twitter being trigger-happy with suspending accounts and deleting tweets that are barely offensive, while I can't seem to get spam off my own pinned tweet. 

If I pin a tweet linking my own Ko-Fi page, how does a reply that's nothing more than a URL to someone else's website not qualify as spam? Better question, when he replies two or three times with the same URL to his own site, how is that not spam? Why does that report need to be queued? Harassment and bullying can have a lot of reasonable doubt to it when it isn't outright racist or life-threatening, but a URL with no context posted multiple times not only to me, but to several others virtually picked at random should be as open and shut a case as it gets. 

It may seem that the obvious solution would be to block the user in question. Sure, but blocks aren't retroactive. Yeah, my page would effectively be invisible to him, as he would also be to me, but everything he's already posted as replies to my tweets are still there, and still visible to anyone else. It's literally the same problem as reporting his replies as spam. The only difference is that the spam may eventually be dealt with, whereas if I block, the best I can hope for is he gets banned and all his tweets receive the unperson treatment. 

Sadly, it seems Twitter is holding onto a very archaic idea of what spam is. They're more than welcome to prove me wrong, but it's based on whether or not they think there's a real person behind it or simply a bot programmed by someone and left to run. I don't know if these are really a thing anymore (I haven't seen them on Twitter in years, and they only cropped up on Instagram for about a month before disappearing), but there used to be these "promotional service" accounts that would temporarily take control of your account and tweet a self-promotion on your behalf. It would seek out relevant hashtags and then add your message as a reply. For example, if you were trying to push your 3D printing services, your stock reply would show up attached to any tweet that used the hashtag "3DPrinting" or whatever. If this sounds like a bot, that's exactly what it is, but here is where things get a bit Kafkaesque. The bot works at a speed that is only about equal to a human being. That is, there's enough of a delay between posts that it could just as easily be done by someone casually browsing the hashtags and typing up the reply themselves. The idea is twofold, that this tricks any automatic algorithms searching for hummingbird levels of communication, and that it doesn't violate Twitter's terms of service anyway because it's self-throttling. 

I've heard some sects of the Amish have a similar attitude about technology, that there's nothing wrong with them using a machine to do a job, so long as it only works as well as a person or an animal. That's fine for them, but Twitter isn't trying to maintain a lifestyle consistent with a particular era of history. Spam in 1998 is no different than the spam of 2018, and every bit as irritating and unwelcome. The only difference is that I am fundamentally lord and master of my e-mail's inbox, while my social media page is a little more democratic by comparison. The former is a letter SLIPPED UNDER my door while the latter is a wheat-pasted flyer SLAPPED ON my door. 

My point is Twitter may be more aggressive with spam than I am giving them credit for, but my experience has not given me any reason to rethink my position to the contrary. When I flag something as spam, and it only hides it from my view until the report is deemed worthy of action at a later point in time (possibly never), that is not even addressing half the problem. I don't want my front door used as someone else's billboard, and the fact that I can't see it from inside my house is not peace of mind. 

Basically, I wanted to use a paint scraper, but had to get a new front door. I deleted the pinned tweet (which I hated doing), reposted it (likely to the annoyance of followers), and repinned it (effectively erasing all the likes and retweets along with the spam). Twitter, we need a better solution than this. 

04 July 2018

They're All Coming Out Of The Network

Preface: I'm currently juggling a few different drafts I've left alone for far too long, but this is still based on all currently available information regarding the implementation of new privacy policies in the wake of Facebook's recent troubles. It is being released on the fourth of July as it relates to freedoms and liberties. 

On the Cambridge Analytica scandal, a quote from John Stossel comes to mind, "I want to say, 'give me a break' but I don't know who to say it to." People were placing a lot of blame on Mark Zuckerberg while also feeling for him when he had to explain Social Media basics to legislators. It's virtually the entire situation in a nutshell, getting mad at someone over something everyone openly resolved to take for granted. Facebook costs you literally nothing to use, as do most social media services, the unspoken contract being that you're there on their terms, renting space for the cost of some number crunching and putting up with a few ads that are minimal compared to what you'd get on network television or print media. In 2018, playing dumb over this exchange is beyond naive. 
Speaking of naive, what I'm about to say probably qualifies as such and maybe will put my stance on this issue in perspective. For starters and in regards to campaign interference, I can't think of a time when I ever changed my vote based on an advertisement. If you're inclined to that approach to electing our leaders, you may as well not vote at all. Furthermore, I don't know what most people's advertising experience on Facebook or elsewhere is like, but if gathering my information means that all the banner ads I see on sites are for products and services I already partake in (Amazon, B&H, RedBubble...), then I call that a victory. I only wish ads on television were as relevant to me. I stopped watching television because I was sick of 3-5 minute commercial breaks every 10-15 minutes, and mostly for crap I wasn't the least bit interested in. To be fair, it irks me a little when I see the same movie trailer about a dozen times in a typical night of watching YouTube, but four years of film school have given me the critical mind needed to spot all the little tricks and tropes that make some trailers effective and others misleading or downright bad. I make a game of it, is my point. I may not seek it out, but should it rear its head and roar like a mighty beast, I hold aloft my magic sword and say, "BY THE POWER OF THE GRAY MATTER IN MY SKULL, BRING IT ON!" 
Speaking of wielding weapons, let me be clear that none of this in any way exonerates Cambridge Analytica for what they've done. Regardless of what users did or didn't know they were opting into, this is a breach of trust and privacy. They took more information than they were allowed to and misrepresented their own intentions to Facebook. The double-edged sword of having heaps of information about you out there in the ethereal web of clouds is you're not alone, and you're nowhere near as special as you think you are. It's like that "What Happens in Vegas" campaign; it's true that if you're just some desk jockeying yahoo from the mundane midwest, you can briefly lead a double life while cruising The Strip and, barring any serious criminal activity, no one's going to call you on it. Then again, if you're already famous, the city that needs sunglasses at night has no shortage of spotlights to shine up your skirt as you get out of your car. This data breach tried to make everyone famous. 
The silver lining to this shitstorm is that nothing is being left unsaid when it comes to what sites ask of you when you partake in their services, putting the terms of use on more equal footing. People are now more inclined to look into what they're signing up for and the sites now can't simply toss out a wall of legalese and hope nobody digs any deeper than that. It's also caused a very interesting phenomenon in my email's inbox. Sites and social media services I signed up for years ago and virtually forgot about are now reaching out to me to tell me they're going to play nice with my data. It's probably sending them some mixed signals for me to close my account and/or unsubscribe from their mailing lists, like I broke up with someone but didn't say as much until years later when everyone stopped caring and I was already walking down the aisle for the third time. 
"Oh, hey! Yeah, I remember you. Bye now. I'll send for my stuff later."