HATE, ANGER AND SOCIAL MEDIA

A Firestorm of Misinformation, Rich Paschall

There are always items in the news that bring out the social media commentators.  There’s the economy, Obama Care, and campaign finance laws.  There are Pipelines and Trade Agreements.  There is religious freedom and freedom of speech.  It is that Freedom of Speech thing that lets the haters and misinformers run rampant on the internet.

© 2007 Nuno Pinheiro & David Vignoni & David Miller & Johann Ollivier Lapeyre & Kenneth Wimer & Riccardo Iaconelli / KDE / LGPL 3 with permission.

© 2007 Nuno Pinheiro & David Vignoni & David Miller & Johann Ollivier Lapeyre & Kenneth Wimer & Riccardo Iaconelli / KDE / LGPL 3 with permission.

It seems a lot of people have time to create graphics with so-called information and historical quotes (internet memes).  Some are very artistically created with nice pictures of a president or other important historical person in the background.  If you are on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter enough, it seems some of these historical figures are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.  One of my favorite internet memes states “The problem with quotes found on the internet is that they are often not true. – Abraham Lincoln.”

Many of the quotes are easily disputed.  I like to type the first phrase of an internet quote or meme into Google search to see what I get.  Sometimes I immediately get proof the quote is false.  Sometimes I find the quote is true, but it was said by someone else.  It seems popular to attribute interesting political and social quotes to George Carlin, even if someone else said it.  Do we think a quote is more believable if a more famous person said it?

I have often seen a quote attributed to former President Jimmy Carter.  It says “If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian Values, because you don’t.”  While it seems like something Carter may have said post-presidency, he did not say it.  Yet, it is frequently re-quoted all across the internet.  Many sites will use it to drive home their point by indicating what this thoughtful and highly regarded human being has to say.

It was actually said by comedian John Fugelsang (Snopes.com here).  I guess if the quote comes from a comedian rather than a former president, it is harder to beat people over the head with it.

In addition to a simple Google search for the quote or alleged fact, you can go to websites dedicated to debunking internet stories.

The most popular is Snopes.com.  It calls itself “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.”  It has to work extra hard to keep up with the mountains of internet crap published daily.  Still, I usually find out whether some really convenient quote to prove a point is actually true or false. Usually they are false.

Tech Republic has a list of the Top Ten websites dedicated to debunking internet rumors and hoaxes.  Snopes leads the list but you will find other reliable websites that can help you quickly deal with stories on Facebook that seem too convenient in proving a biased point of view.

Despite easy access to the truth, haters choose to believe whatever is posted on the internet if it can be twisted to support their position. They then take the misinformation and share it with their friends, who in turn do the same. I like to post an article or link into a comment under these false memes, but it does not seem to matter.  Comments continue to be made after mine in support of the lie, as if posting the true story meant nothing. It is infuriating, to say the least.

The anger and hate behind the false stories and memes was out in full force recently due to some “hot button” topics in the news.  The confederate flag debate was raging following the murder of nine black church-goers in South Carolina.  Haters from both sides condemned the “opposition” for their point of view.  While one side says the flag represents slavery and racism, the other claims the flag is a historical battle flag, part of their heritage. The name calling continued for quite a while.

Bringing out more internet lies than you can count was the historic Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.  We previously looked at the legal aspects of the case in It Is So Ordered.”  But not many respondents on social media were interested in the facts.

Celebrants quickly hailed the decision as if their social pressure brought about change, rather than coming as a result of well argued points of law.  Detractors saw this as the downfall of society and many Republicans vowed to have such a decision overturned by some undetermined method.  Apparently they are unaware that the Supreme Court has the final word on Constitutional law.  That is probably why we call them the “Supreme Court.”

With homophobic commentary out in abundance, never was so much hate poured out in the name of God.  I had reposted some Facebook comments by Fr. James Martin, SJ on my facebook.  I had noted he had linked to some thoughtful articles on same-sex marriage.  He asked people to respond to the court’s decision with love. You know, “love thy neighbor.” 

He did not come out in favor of the decision, he just asked us to love one another.  What did he get for his trouble?  The haters let him have it full force.  The advised him “you’ll be spending your eternity in hell.”  I guess there are bad consequences to preaching love.  The next day, in response to another posting calling for love and understanding, the good Father had to add to his facebook post “NB: No ad hominem. No uncharitable comments. No homophobic comments. One to two posts per person.”  Nope, that did not work for him. 

The bad part of social media is the ease in which hate, anger and lies are spread. Impressionable people can find support for their misguided thoughts, and feel they have backing for whatever hate or heinous acts they perpetrate. While we all support the idea of Freedom of Speech, it is safe to say our founding fathers had no idea how quickly lies could become accepted as truth.

And all of this happens in an era where the truth so easy to find. If you are interested in truth.

OSCAR ISN’T SACRED BUT WE WATCH ANYHOW

72-oscar-statue

Daily Prompt: Time After Time

We don’t have a lot of traditions. We have a lot of intentions, but they don’t always pan out. But we have one that’s sacred. Okay, not exactly sacred, but we do it every year.

Garry and I watch the Oscars.

We watch them when they are boring. We watch them when we are tired and would like to go to bed. We watched them one year in the pilot’s lounge at the top of a cruise ship on the biggest screen television I’ve ever seen.

Last year, we watched them in Connecticut with friends. For my money, Seth McFarland was the absolutely funniest-ever host.

Ellen DeGeneres was good this year. Pleasant. A kinder, gentler host. But McFarland made me laugh more and laughter always wins the day with me. Her selfie with the stars crashed Twitter and broke all retweet records with more than 2 million retweets.

Garry and I have been together 25 years — officially. Longer unofficially. Much longer entirely off the books. And we always watch the Oscars.

I suppose I should say something about why. I mean, mostly, the show is pretty dull. Insipid speeches thanking everyone the awardee has ever known since birth or even before birth in a previous life. Ho hum productions of the songs of the year. They used to have really bad dance numbers, but eliminated them this year. Drat. That was always good for a groan.

Ellen at oscars

Lacking the bad production numbers, we could gawk at the hideous examples of “one plastic surgery over the line.” Kim Novak was terrible to see. A lovely woman who fixed what didn’t need fixing. We barely recognized her. Then there were all the rest of them, so full of Botox that their faces were all zombified. Rigid. Men and women alike, terrified to be seen getting old.

Garry and I looked at each other and whatever problems we have, we look a lot better than they do. Without plastic surgery, thank you.

And one more thing. How come, since they have the financial wherewithal to buy whatever they want, are so many of them so badly dressed? Can’t buy good taste, eh?

So that’s why we watch the show. To see the new stars, the old stars, the gorgeous dresses from fabulous designers worn by aging stars who should know better. The awful dresses worn by beautiful young starlets who should look in the mirror rather than take the advice of designers.

Ugly tuxedos, terrible hair, bad makeup and some stomach-wrenching plastic surgery. And at least one or two wins for the actors, directors and others who’ve done an amazing job and deserve a victory lap.

The good, the bad and the ugly — it’s all part of the magic of the Oscar night.

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It gives us a chance to yell “Ew!!” yet we are ever-ready to praise those who come through the Oscar experience nicely dressed, not surgically remodeled, with some grace and dignity remaining.

We can hardly wait until next year.

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999 BEFORE THE CRASH – STATS AND STATS

Stats OverallShortly before our ISP crashed and burned last night, I took a look at my statistics. Just before midnight, I had 999 followers. WordPress followers. Not including comment followers, Tumbler, Twitter, Facebook or anything else. On my most active day in November — a good month statistically and quality-wise — I got 300 hits from 162 people.

Where are the other 838 followers? I know I’m not the only one to ask this question. I have no doubt more than half of them are spammers, hoping to find a way to hook me for some nefarious purpose. Some are impulse follows. They liked a picture or a post and clicked follow, but have no enduring interest and never visit again.

Let’s say that accounts for 75% of what today’s statistics show as 1004 followers.

Despite the rolling peaks and valleys of hit counts, the number of people who visit Serendipity is relatively stable. Typically, it runs between 75 and 150 individuals, averaging around 100 on a “regular” day, almost all of which come in during the late afternoon and evening.

What changes more is how many articles they read, how many pictures they click on. Sometimes, the number of visitors is quite low, but the hit count is very high, meaning that each visitor hit 3 or more posts per visit. I feel very successful when I see that. Raw numbers are one thing, but seeing what people really read gives me an idea what you appreciate. If it’s something I’m especially proud of, I’m doubly pleased.

Who is everyone else? Are you real? Do you look at the email but never come to the site? Are you following through the Reader from which statistics do not count? And why don’t Reader hits count? Does anyone know? I love using the Reader. It’s a great tool that lets me identify stuff I want to spend more time exploring, but also gives me a chance to “say hello” to others bloggers without eating my entire day. But, great tool or not, I’m hesitant to use it — saving it for when I’m most pressed for time — because I know it doesn’t register statistically.

We may deny we track our stats … but we all track our stats, one way or the other. It’s the only way to get a grip on how well we are doing.

Big Stats

No answers. Still, I’d like to know who you are and what you liked that made you follow … and why you don’t participate more actively?  I’ve never been Freshly Pressed either (are you embarrassed to visit an unrecognized site?). I think am close to a world record for non-recognition.

Whatever brought you to me — spammers, you may leave the room — thank you. To all who come and visit, to everyone who reads the emails or checks me out in the reader. Whatever your reason or method, you are welcome and I hope you find what you are looking for.

Spammers, please ignore this message.

Amateurs have all the fun

It has come up a few times lately … how to define a professional. So, are you a professional? I’ve seen questionnaires for writers that apparently feel the sign of a professional is how much you sacrifice for your art. I’m quite sure sacrifice has nothing to do with whether or not you are a professional.

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There is only one question you need to answer. Do you get paid for doing it, whatever ‘it’ is? If you don’t get paid, you are not a professional. If you do get paid, you are. This doesn’t address the issue of whether or not you are talented or especially skilled. You may be a brilliant amateur and someone else may be a lackluster professional, but that’s not the question.

Professional is a job classification and addresses your status with the IRS. When I was working as a writer, it never crossed my mind to wonder if I was a professional. I had a job. Writing. I had deadlines. I got paid. The odds are if you are wondering whether or not you are a professional? You aren’t.

Ghost Photog in the Sky

Professional doesn’t mean talented and amateur is not a comment on quality of your work. I flirted with professional photography, only to discover it wasn’t fun. To make my living as a photographer, I had to do what clients wanted and that was … well … work.

Then, this past May, along came Marissa Mayer from Yahoo to explain why they were eliminating Flickr Pro.
MarissaMayerQuote

Wow. When did access to tools become equivalent to professionalism? Completely ignoring the actual definition of professional, she manages to ignore any other sensible guideline and define professional as “owning the tools.” Using this reasoning, everyone who owns woodworking tools is a professional carpenter. Owning a few rolls of electrical tape and a couple of gauges could make you an electrician. Is a plumber anyone who owns wrenches?

Is everyone who owns a computer and a printer, who has a blog or posts on Facebook a professional writer? If I buy some paints and an easel, I’m a painter, right? Everyone who has a digital camera can also make movies, so are we all professional filmmakers?

If ignorance is bliss, Marissa Mayer is very happy.

The single thing that divides a professional from an amateur — excluding any legal requirements such as training, licensing and so on — is a paycheck. If you get paid to write, you’re a professional writer. If you sell your photographs or services as a photographer, you are a professional photographer. How much of your income needs to come from writing or photography? At least some. None is too little.

If you have never sold anything you’ve written, you are an aspiring writer, an amateur, a hopeful. You don’t get professional status until you get the check. This is true for photographers, painters, and all other artists. It’s true for every profession, artistic or otherwise.

CamerasIf you don’t believe me, look it up. That’s the line in the sand. If you don’t earn money doing it — whatever “it” is — you are not a professional. It isn’t about your talent, enthusiasm or dedication to your art. It is a statement about your status. Maybe you will become a professional in the future. Perhaps you were a professional in the past.

I’m retired. I used to earn my living writing. This makes me a former professional writer. My husband was a reporter. He is now a former reporter. We collect social security and pensions, so we are no longer professionals. I was never a professional photographer even though I sold a few pictures and did a few gigs for which I got paid. I am and was a dedicated, serious amateur photographer. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I think we should stop worrying about it. In most things, amateurs have more fun anyhow.

85,000. What it means. What it doesn’t.

To put this into perspective, my “about” page and five top posts account for around 35,000 hits. “The Me Page” alone has gotten more than 12,000 hits.

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Still, the cumulative effect is that a lot of people have visited this little blog of mine, for whatever reason and it’s a bit humbling to realize that’s the number of people in a pretty big town, more than a packed crowd in Yankee Stadium. I know there are people out there whose statistics put them into the hundreds of thousands. What’s weird is I see if I don’t quit, I’ll get there too. Not tomorrow, unless something I write goes viral (unlikely) … but I’ll get there. Because every day, I get around 200 hits, unless the première show for the 2012-2013 season of Criminal Minds is playing — in which case I get closer to 1000 hits (that’s how I know the show is airing).

I am writing this before I quite hit the 85,000 mark. At this moment in time, I’m at 84,958, so I’ll cross that bridge tomorrow. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it ought to be more than 85,000. I’m probably jinxing myself.

Number of posts? Closer to 1500, but I deleted several hundred and I’ll probably have to do it again to keep the website from collapsing under the weight of too many posts. I’ve been a busy writer. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to rerun posts because — hey — I think they’re pretty good and worth running again.

The ups and down of statistics can produce a lot of anxiety, so … you gotta have faith. I don’t just look at raw numbers because they are only a part of the puzzle. I don’t have more visitors or even as many as I did — the total number of visitors is down considerably from the peak last fall. It was the election and the Internet was a wild and crazy place. Yet the overall hit count has remained reasonably steady because guests spend more time on my site, read more posts, look at more pictures. The average number of posts hit per visit is greater than 2, sometimes a lot more. That tells me I’m doing something right.

It tells me I’m writing more interesting stories, posting better pictures. This matters to me far more than raw numbers. To know you come and stick around, enjoy my work enough to read more than a one post makes me feel pretty good.

The numbers of followers I’ve got has topped 400 from WordPress. I’ve got a bunch more from Twitter and Tumblr, maybe a couple of dozen from Facebook (not quite as many as WordPress counts them). A year ago I couldn’t even imagine so many followers.

Followers get  emails. Many people read posts in email and don’t bother to visit the website. It’s a peril of email notification. If you can read it in email, there’s no incentive to go to the main site since the emails contains 90% (or more) of the post. It’s a trade-off. Followers are good to have, even if they only read the email. Honestly, I don’t care if they read my posts on a telephone pole. Where isn’t important.

Sudden drops in hits are alarming and baffling, especially when numbers pop back up the next day. What was that all about? You will never know. One of the great mysteries of blogging. Numbers by themselves don’t mean everything, but they don’t mean nothing, either. A lot of hits indicates interest at the very least. Hit counts on individual posts tell me a lot too.

There are two kinds of posts in the blogging world. There are posts that are highly topical and burn really hot for a short time. Most of these involve breaking stories, current events, scandals, stuff like that. And there are slow burners. Timeless material, fiction, reviews.

Reviews can have a very long shelf life. People keep coming to read them over and over. Many of these are informational in nature, reviews of technology, books, movies. Oddly, reviews of extremely obscure movies do quite well, maybe because it’s difficult to find reviews of them anywhere. Camera reviews seem to have an eternal life. Book reviews of popular authors continue to be accessed months after original publication.

The posts with a long shelf lives gather a lot of hits over the months. One of my top three posts has more than 5000 hits, but it took more than 9 months. As long as the material remains relevant, people will find it. Good placement on Google helps too, but over all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the longevity of reviews in general, technology in particular.

So for all that WordPress doesn’t think much of my work, a lot of other people apparently feel otherwise and in the end, that matters. It matters a lot. My followers, my readers have become a kind of family. We share each others’ lives, pains, joys. We celebrate and mourn together. We’ve never met, but we aren’t strangers.

I still save every “like” and every notification of a new follower. I would follow all my followers, but I’m out of time. I can’t keep up with that many blogs. I can barely keep up with the books I’m supposed to be reading and reviewing.

I can’t imagine how people do this when they have full-time jobs and young children. I’ve never been more impressed than I am with homemakers and career men and women who manage to handle their family obligations, jobs and blogs. All honor to you. You are the real rock stars.

Improving the Quality of Corruption

DOWN WITH GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION! Defenestrate the politicians!

Right. Sure.

Without meaning to sound as cynical as I really am, please give me an example of a non corrupt government. Anywhere. In the history of government. From the first known government (Egypt? China?) to now. Just one. On any continent. Any form of government, even a tribal council. Because as far as I know, there is no such thing.

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I just finished reading “Imperium,” a fictionalized (not very) biography of Cicero. It gave me a headful of reality check on government corruption and I realized that we Americans don’t have a grip on serious corruption. Now, Rome, those guys understood corruption. They were serious about their corruption. We are just dilettantes compared to them! More on this later.

Boston State House

Never in this world, has there ever been a government free of corruption. It is the nature of government to be subject to … uh … um … what shall I call it? Oh, okay. Got it.

Pressure.

What do you mean by that?

Well, let’s see. Money. That’s a fine traditional form of corruption. Right up there, we have nepotism, a form of corruption whose popularity never wanes. Otherwise known as “my family and friends.” Hey, they just need jobs, you know? It’s not a big deal, is it? Find me a small town where the government — such as it is — isn’t composed of entrenched old families, their friends, friends of family, cousins of the friends of the families, their brothers and sisters in-and-out-of-law.

Okay, how about constituents? You know, like when we tell our pols what we want them to do or else we throw them out on their asses. The stuff you and I want and demand, the stuff we think our government owes us because we are the people who elected them.

Jail 1882

“What?” you say? “Isn’t that what government is all about?”

Right you are! A little question for you.

Does the fact that we want it mean it is inherently moral? Just? Righteous? Even legal? If you believe that, I have a bridge you can buy really cheap.

UxbridgeTownHall300-72

We want what we want. We don’t really care whether or not it benefits everyone. We, here, in this town, need new bridges over the river. We need our roads repaired. Sewers installed. A new high school. A bigger library. Screw other towns, the rest of the state and the nation. We want what we want. We want it now. We deserve it. We voted for you and we expect you to make it happen.

Pols who deliver the goods get re-elected. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it has always worked. And always will. If you don’t think the electoral process itself is a form of corruption, you are missing the point.

It doesn’t matter who is applying the pressure — or why. The process of gaining and retaining power unavoidably invites — guarantees — corruption.

I am sure — without knowing the specific nation, people, form of government or period of history — the process and its representatives were corrupt. Politicians did, are doing and will always do whatever they must to continue to be politicians. In some cases, that is the same as continuing to breathe. The stakes get higher in non democracies and/or totalitarian regimes.

Then there’s the urgent desire of everyone in public service who didn’t come to power with a private fortune, to make and keep as much money as they can before they get kicked out of office. Or just plain kicked or put up against a wall and shot, depending. It’s why our Founding Fathers — who were smart, sophisticated, and understood reality — thought it was better to elect wealthy people to office. Because rich people were less subject to bribery. In theory, anyhow. Duh.

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Not everyone lusts for money. Some merely lust for power, lots of it. It’s not less corrupt than taking bribes, just a different twist on the same story. Power is a great leveler because no one — rich or poor — is immune to the siren song of power.

Me? I just want officials to do something good while they hold office. Even though it requires they placate many people however they can without getting caught, killed, impeached, indicted, imprisoned or exposed on Facebook, Twitter or CNN. Cynical? Moi?

I think we should start a movement for better corruption. Require corrupt politicians to use their power — however ill-gained — to pass laws that make the world better in my opinion. And when all is said and done, it’s my opinion that counts, right?

Boston Commons and Statehouse-HP-1

I want laws that will help the economy, create jobs, lower taxes, improve health care, eliminate racism, bigotry and discrimination. If my representatives line their pockets in the process? Well okay, but deliver the goods. It’s the least they can do.

Yeah, I’m cynical. Totally, absolutely cynical. Accept payoffs and kick-backs. Hire your extended family, their friends and relatives. Please, just do some good while you are at it.

If I have to pay them off, I’d like to get value for my money.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Facebook – An Itchy Elephant

The first time I accessed Facebook was early 2011, a year before the 2012 Presidential election went into a full-tilt boogie. I had never been on a social media site though I’d heard of MySpace. My impression was it was where 12-year-olds went to pretend they were 16. (I was right.)

I was pleasantly surprised with Facebook. It was easy. I could connect with anyone. Everyone. Anywhere on Planet Earth.

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That warm fuzzy feeling evaporated faster than morning mist. Facebook was the angriest place on earth. Everyone had a strong opinion — mostly based on their own or someone else’s opinion. Facts? We don’t need no stinking facts! This is Facebook! MY opinion is as good as anyone else’s (no, it isn’t actually). It seemed as if the whole world was posting angry diatribes. From the left, right, middle and far ends of the universe, everyone had something to shout about. Whoa, I thought to myself. This could get ugly (I was right … it did).

Then I discovered games. I connected with kids (now grandparents) with whom I went to grade school or college. People I wanted to reconnect with. Then, with people I had hoped never to hear anything from again. The good, the bad and the wholly unattractive, all in one basket. Whoopee.

communication-world-global

I began backing away as fast as I could. The games were cool, or some of them anyhow. But the percentage of enraged people, illiterates, the mentally unbalanced, the lunatic fringe — all posting whatever was on their minds (perhaps “minds” is too strong a word, but it’s the only one I’ve got) was too much for me. The temperature was in the red zone.

I continued to play games, which is why 95% of my “friends” (what a misnomer!) on Facebook are those with whom I connected because we were playing the same games. The remaining 5% are family and real live people I know. Some seem, for whatever reason, to prefer communicating via Facebook rather than email, telephone or in person. To each his/her/their own. Who am I to judge? (Okay, I think it’s weird, but I try not to judge.) (I don’t succeed.)

In the beginning, I got upset when Facebook made blatantly exploitive changes to their site. Then I remembered: I don’t have to go there. I don’t have to post. If Facebook vanished tomorrow, my world would not crumble.

By then, I’d found WordPress and begun blogging. The more into blogging I got, the less reason I had to visit Facebook … unless I was in the mood for a game. And of course, there is the convenience of using Facebook to publicize my blog. I may not like it, but lots of others do. I get quite a few click-throughs from Facebook.

WordPress Logo

The thing is, you can’t avoid Facebook. It’s there, the elephant in the room, the itch you can’t quite scratch. Pretend otherwise, but you can smell the peanuts and no matter how much you twist, you never get that itch.

A surprising (to me) number of authors and artists choose Facebook pages in preference to having their own website. Is it because Facebook offers wide open access and effortless connectivity?

It certainly is less demanding to maintain a Facebook page than manage a website. Maybe that’s it.

For me, the open access of Facebook is a negative, a reason to avoid it. I want control over who does what on my site. Obviously others feel differently. Everything has a place and a purpose. Or as Mom used to say: “For everyone, there’s someone.”

Or something. Facebook is the something many choose. Never my choice, but that’s irrelevant. Freedom isn’t just a word. It’s one of my core values. Do your thing. I’m not bound by your choices. You’re not bound by mine.

It’s the American way. And my way.