Many people in the Gold Coast neighborhood woke up to an unexpected surprise on August 10th, 2020. For those who didn’t catch the news, many literally walked into it: The aftermath of an unexpected looting spree.
Torn-apart containers ripped from cash registers and ATMs then discarded once emptied. Broken glass everywhere. The occasional alarm still going off. Trash everywhere. A heavy police presence.
What led to this event? Criminals weaponizing false information on social media.
An adult man fired shots at officers, who returned fire in defense. He is expected to live.
Stories on social media began to claim that the suspect was a minor and unarmed. This story continued to spread the next day. In one instance, the Chicago Police Twitter account called it out.
Some criminals took this opportunity to encourage looting the downtown again. After all, there were little to no consequences for the majority of the looters last May.
The moment with perhaps the greatest political ramifications in the aftermath was the Black Lives Matter Chicago leader who condoned the behavior.
My wife struggled with fear the last time looters came and trashed our neighborhood. After spending time in prayer about it, she knew what needed to be done the morning after they returned.
If there is one thing that you need to remember from this article, it is this:
Bad people will weaponize false information.
This is why posting possibly false information publicly on social media isn’t just wrong.
If you are fed up with how messy social media has become, maybe it’s time to make your move to the Open Web.
What is the Open Web?
In short, it’s running your own website on a product that you are licensed to own, not rent.
As 90’s web users may remember, the Open Web is still, in some ways, a “wild west”. For example, you can still get hacked if you aren’t careful with what you’re doing, but you will also find some of the most original, creative content out there.
The Open Web has come a long way with the help of affordable systems called Content Management Systems (aka “CMSes”). Some popular ones include:
WordPress – my personal recommendation, has great blogger and small business templates out of the box, has powerful developer options and a lot of plug-ins
Drupal – more flexible data out of the box, has very powerful options for developers too
Hugo – Has amazing content flexibility and the fastest file save times. There are even free hosting options using this static site generator. However, it requires the ability to code.
I am going to focus the rest of this article on the advantages of using WordPress for the Open Web, but the other options are well worth a look.
While I do not subscribe to “meditation” in the Eastern Mystical sense of the term, this comparison of social media platforms as noisy and artificial to WordPress being interconnected and yet independent and diverse is an accurate comparison of the Web’s ecosystem.
What about my photos?
Worried about formats for posting? WordPress has the flexibility for posting pictures (including memes), videos, short statements, and book-length articles.
In fact, WordPress has a user-friendly “block editor”, which means you don’t have to know code or be a nerd to create pages of any reasonable layout!
What about my friends?
Moderated comments using WordPress’ built-in comments or embedding a commenting system such as Disqus can enable as much or as little site interactivity as you want, with you at the wheel. This link will take you to an example where some friends and acquaintances of mine engaged with my post.
What about hackers?
Depending on the method of measuring, WordPress accounts for roughly 30-something% of the Web as of 2020! As such, a product with a large market share is a prime target. Thankfully, this is manageable by following some common sense rules like encrypting the website connection, using a strong password, not allowing strangers into the site, not allowing un-moderated comments to post without your review first, and keeping the system and plugins updated. As of WordPress 5.5 you can set the system to self-update the plugins.
What should I expect?
In short, expect to pay a little so that the site is ad-free. If you want comments, expect to spend time moderating them and deleting spam. Even if you get a spam filter, expect a few clever ones to get through the cracks.
Where do I start?
I recommend managed hosting (such as Flywheel or the paid options for WordPress Dot Com) or else getting someone you know to host and administrate WordPress for you. Shameless plug: I currently do so for people I know, including initial setup, daily backups, & security scans. Contact me if you want details.
That depends on what you desire to accomplish! Just realize that traffic is driven by what people want, which is sometimes not what you want. If this is your place to unwind and get creative, have fun with it! If this is your place to sell a product or influence people, I recommend starting your research with the book Platform by Michael Hyatt.
After review of the article by an academic, I was prompted to thoughtfully change some of the wording from the original conclusions drawn in order to promote better factual accuracy while still expressing the opinions meant to be expressed.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
COVID-19 is a topic that most of us are tired of hearing about. It has taken a tragic death toll, and I am aware of at least three people who lost a loved one from COVID-19. One of the deceased attended my wedding shower roughly 2 months before contracting the deadly disease.
I am not saying that the death toll estimates we are being told are wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn’t exercise the precautions that the WHO and CDC have given us. However, I am saying that the transparency in data collection and interpretation seems to be lacking.
What is also lacking is the public promotion of peer-reviewed data models of the sociological consequences of a battered economy, including the number of deaths caused by poverty. It may be out there, but if it is, then it hasn’t been given the same spotlight.
Something is terribly wrong when we ignore the opposing viewpoint of a scientific observation out of hand. Unfortunately, academia appears to be beyond ripe for this type of behavior, as observed in Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled.
If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching the testimonials of a host of qualified scientists who were removed from their academic positions for suggesting the possibility of the world coming from a source of intelligent design. These people didn’t necessarily mention God, mind you. Just academically countering a theory, like all good scientists should.
Countering a hypothesis or theory to test its validity is called “doing your homework”.
Ben Stein’s tongue-in-cheek humor will keep you from falling asleep hearing people talk science…until he establishes the (indirect) link between Nazism and suppression of academic thought, with the common denominator being Darwinism. Then the documentary takes a serious turn. Real serious.
What’s this got to do with COVID-19? Hang on, I’m getting there…
A Nobel laureate has stepped forward to say that questioning the current narrative has become politicized and that definitive sourcing has been assigned to an elite few rather than to a highly-qualified international group of professionals.
Levitt is not saying that his observations are absolutely right, mind you, but he is saying that he has made a scientific observation, is standing by the data he has compiled, and is welcoming peer review to challenge the data. Instead of academic review, he has been met with verbal abuse. It would seem that censorship of an opposing scientific observation is alive and well over a decade after Expelled was released.
In other words, I don’t believe we truly did all our homework. Just part of it.
While Dr. Fauci did his best within the scope of his expertise, I don’t believe that he has been able to consult high-caliber professionals outside the scope of his expertise. We may be reacting to observations and a data collection effort that has been unprecedented, but with the missing piece of academically reviewing the antitheses challenging the current narrative, I don’t believe we’re actually doing science. We’re answering a pandemic with too much politics instead. On both sides.
The Scientific Method is missing from the process.
Until we have better peer review of the data compiled from multiple qualified sources, there is a possibility that the margin of error reported in the news is astronomically big, or that it is very small, and because of the lack of sufficient academic oversight there’s no way to know either way.
Until we know for certain how close or how far off we were on the numbers, or until the pandemic sufficiently goes away, I still believe COVID-19 is serious. Furthermore, the data collection for this pandemic is unprecedented and, consequently, what we are being told is still our current best guess in an ever-evolving situation.
Still better than the Facebook “experts” blindly reposting to their confirmation bias’ content.
I’ll still wear a mask where I’m asked to and where I believe it to be prudent. Same with keeping my distance from the sick and the vulnerable. Not because I’m afraid, but because of my worldview as a believer in Jesus. In that worldview, I believe in valuing life over death (Proverbs 8:36), loving my neighbor (Matthew 22:39), obeying my authorities (Romans 13:1), and pursuing peace where possible (Hebrews 12:14).
A little mask over my face is very small inconvenience compared to the hardships our forerunners had to face in order to preserve life and liberty.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across a Youtube live stream that was clearly faked. It claimed Elon Musk was giving away 5000 BTC (roughly $47 million as of June 16, 2020). I flagged it as a Bitcoin scam and I assume the feed went down once a moderator saw the flag.
Then the weird part happened.
Youtube’s algorithm, knowing my interest in blockchain technology and my brush with a “giveaway” now recommends subsequent scams as they go live.
Tonight I reported four of them running simultaneously on Youtube. Two of them had been running for four hours and thousands of people had been watching.
Here’s the typical anatomy of these scams:
The video is always a prerecorded stream of a real event, sometimes involving a tech or crypto celebrity or a SpaceX launch. The title is deliberately something not related to the giveaway in order to evade immediate detection by Youtube’s scam detection.
Once the video is reported and taken down, these scammers (who by my research appear to be operating from Russia) just create a new channel, stuff the channel with fake followers so the channel is annotated with something like “30K Followers”, name the channel something like “Thomas Lee” or “Elon Musk”, and continue to operate with impunity.
Given the increasing number of these streams running simultaneously right now and the perceived growth in viewers and growing length of runtime, it would appear that Youtube is either unaware of this trend, even though these videos are getting reported, or else Youtube hasn’t been able to implement a comprehensive strategy yet to stop these scammers without unintentionally punishing the legitimate channels.
Perhaps if they could work the algorithm to keep recommending the scams to admins the same way Youtube is recommending 4 simultaneously streaming scams to me tonight?
Until then, Bitcoin enthusiasts with a lower IQ will be paying an unexpected price from their lack of knowledge or wisdom, and the majority of tech enthusiasts like myself will continue to get annoyed and keep reporting the videos and sometimes the advertised domain names.
Content warning: elements photographed for my story below contain profanity and crudeness.
This post has been thoughtfully revised for factual correctness as subsequent investigations confirmed new details.
2020 will be remembered as a dark chapter in American history. Never in many of our lifetimes have we seen lawlessness become so rampant, both with police breaking the law and a host of hurting people, anarchists, and opportunists using such grievous lawlessness as an excuse to commit crimes en masse.
Today I saw democracy morph into anarchy. I saw protesting morph into violence.
As I write I can still hear sirens, honking, fireworks, and intermittent yelling outside my apartment. The tone is tense. It is rumored that the Walgreens and CVS just down the street have been looted. I’ll find out tomorrow morning if my wife’s car survived the rampant vandalism.
Update: it did, thank God! Many people in a much poorer economic state did not have their cars and businesses survive the onslaught, sadly.
This is my photo and video story of what I observed while strolling from the Gold Coast to the Magnificent Mile.
The Magnificent Mile
At about this point, the body of protestors is pretty much behind me now. That body mostly comprised of peaceful protestors expressing their beliefs. One of them even gave a homeless man his water bottle.
The more aggressive participants from within the crowd begin to loiter, harassing the police and commencing the looting shortly after they leave.
This is around the time the looting began, which I captured while heading for home.
I took my leave, dumbstruck by what I just encountered and impressed by the professional restraint our law enforcement workers had while receiving so much abuse.
Something’s terribly wrong when a journalist can be arrested on the spur of the moment without explanation, charges, or a warrant but it takes days (like in Minneapolis) or even a year (like in Chicago) for an officer to be placed into custody to be tried for killing someone in front of a rolling camera.
Something’s terribly wrong if Christians are complaining more about the destruction and theft of property than about the snuffing out of a human made in God’s image.
This isn’t Democrat vs. Republican politics here. I despise CNN’s dishonest and clearly biased “journalism”. I would even categorize some of their work as fake news and hit pieces. But this morning’s arrest was a flagrant abuse of the reporting team’s constitutional rights, in my opinion.
Thanks be to God that no injustice, be it murder or abuse or theft, can slip past His notice, and how terrible a judgment awaits all those whose sins are not covered by the blood of Jesus! Realizing this truth should make even the most passionate advocates for social justice shudder at what fate the unrepentant face.
May 1, 2020. Trees in Rogers Park, Chicago are heralding the imminent arrival of summer with the white and green of maturing buds and tiny leaves.
Protestors rally today yet again at one of several housing facilities for immigrant children operated by Heartland Alliance. These protests, founded on the premise of the lie that Heartland’s facilities are “jails”, happen with enough frequency that some of the employees of Heartland have grown accustomed to it. On this day, however, the protesting takes a startling turn.
Within moments an unassuming home in the midst of Chicago’s north side is smothered with spray paint, smoke, and forceful virtue signalers.
This is no longer a peaceful march. This is vandalism and violence against the place that immigrant children had called home.
With triumph reminiscent of an epic prank being performed by a popular college fraternity, an individual appears on the rooftop and drapes a canvas over the top of the house with the words “CLOSE THE JAILS OPEN THE HOUSES!”
Cue more fireworks.
The rooftop trespasser poses, in hopes of this being an iconic moment, on a house for immigrant youth as the protestors demand in unison for houses for immigrant youth.
As if this isn’t anticlimactic enough, footage emerges of a child being endangered at the event.
Antifa & left-wing protesters in Chicago targeted Heartland Alliance, a nonprofit that houses migrant & unaccompanied minors. Masked protesters scaled facility & threw incendiary devices. This video shows one of the devices nearly landing on a child brought to the protest #MayDaypic.twitter.com/fR5BhELimb
It would appear the Little Village Solidarity Network group may be a primary group behind the organizing of the violent event, as per the video that has been distributed in multiple accounts, including local activist Aldo Reyes’ Instagram:
However, a look at the Facebook event revealed that this event was considered a group effort:
None of these groups have condemned the violence or dissociated from this event after the fact. Some of these groups (especially the Little Village Solidarity Network) were praising the violence.
Research into several of these groups uncovers a recurring thread of Anarchist philosophies promoted by some of its members if not by the organization itself.
Here is a screenshot from one of the protestors’ Instagram:
For the history buffs, this tune sounds familiar.
History Repeating Itself
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Not all Anarchists are violent, mind you (in fact, the Wikipedia article linked above references how some Anarchists pushed for pacifism), but the concept of violent Anarchism appears to be rebirthing in the United States, as can be seen by the repeated violent behaviors of Antifa and the behaviors of grassroots organizations that allegedly have no hierarchy.
Free Scare Heartland Kids!
Did these protests help free the allegedly jailed children? No. Did they open houses? No, they vandalized a house. Did the children, who these organizations claim to love, experience distress from other protests like this one? Yes!
To even the casual observer, these acts of violence and agitation are counter-productive. These activist groups are demonstrating how blind and ignorant the modern strain of anarchy is making the far left. It’s no longer about truth but rather about feeling good about one’s self for following through with a false tale of saving the good people from the evil greedy bad people. A generation from now this will be all but forgotten.
“Cancel Culture” is all the rage, and rage is a currency on Twitter. It’s getting so out of hand that this joke (from Twitter, no less) hits a little too close to home.
I believe many content creators, digital natives, and developers would be willing to admit that web experiences became notably more hostile between 2016 to 2019. In a recent example, Stack Overflow treated one of their most valuable Jewish community members with undeserved hostility, doing so on a Jewish holiday, admitting to it, then dragging their feet to reinstate her. As of October 19th, she is still not reinstated. Other community moderators have now stepped down because they don’t trust the company.
It’s not only hostility (not to mention the outright garbage) that is making web experiences ugly. The economics of social networks are causing frustrating user experiences. Also, companies and developers are imposing system constraints on their Internet products too quickly without first considering basics like security and the necessity to constantly change the system based on ongoing needs. Consequently, privacy leaks, broken trust, and lawsuits abound.
After being in web development in both full time and part time roles for 8 years, in observing both delightful and ugly experiences as both a user and a builder, these are some personal opinions on how we can make the web a better experience for everybody.
Did someone behave offensively on a website or on social media? If you know them, address it personally with them and with grace. If you don’t know them well enough to address the issue well, just stop following them and move on. No need to give them any more of your time, and no need to publicly vent. I’ve made that mistake before and it didn’t serve any redeeming purpose.
Name calling should also have no place on our websites or social feeds. Even if the other person is legitimately wrong. Politically-charged terms such as “libtard”, “nazi”, and “racist” have almost never solved a problem or changed someone’s mind. They have almost always fed unnecessary conflict.
If you are a Christian, then this step is not optional:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Romans 12:18, ESV
Web users should ideally have a “home base” for their web presence. That home base must be 100% self-owned. Right now, we’ve become too dependent on social media platforms to own our home bases for us. While social media has its place to be something of a “bullhorn” to market our ideas and products, we should work harder to decentralize the content of the World Wide Web by running our own websites based on personal interests.
Are you not coding-savvy but want to build a digital home base of your own? I recommend either Squarespace or WordPress.com.
If a product is truly bad, stop using it. They don’t deserve your business and the majority of the time there are good alternatives. For example, are you done with Twitter but want a microblog? Roll your own by writing short form content on any blog platform of your choice or join a Mastodon server.
Don’t post on social media about how much you hate a product or dislike a product’s CEO. Especially if you intend to still use that product. If you are saying you hate something but still use it (such as Facebook or Uber) then you don’t actually hate it.
Stop virtue signaling. It’s gross.
Simplify and Strengthen Web Engineering
Warning: this section gets a bit nerdy
Businesses tend to focus first on delivering features within unrealistic deadlines and with overly engineered systems. Right now, it is trendy to break apart systems into a bunch of smaller running systems, known as a Microservice Architecture. While there are many excellent uses for this architecture when it comes to scaling systems to meet high demand, there are costs as well. A major data aggregation company has written a blog post about why they have moved away from this architecture in their specific use case. Monolithic systems could become all the rage again for many use cases!
Another trend I’ve encountered is to use a framework for no reason. While frameworks can simplify code and make life easier, I’ve also seen developers adopt a large framework without proper coding conventions. It resulted in a tar-pit of writing more (and buggier) code than if they had adopted no framework! If the team doesn’t know why they’re using something and doesn’t know how to leverage what they’re using, that is not a good sign.
Another key issue to avoid is too much dependence on the individual knowledge of a developer or architect. If your team cannot operate with a key team member missing, including the team lead, your project is already in serious trouble.
The World Wide Web has some excellent and delightful things, and has lowered the barrier to fun and thoughtful creativity. It’s also overdue for an overhaul in many places. Users and developers alike have both the relational means to do this as well as the tools.
If you value truth, then you know as well as I do that it is important to curb sharing lies. Even partial ones! Fake or sensational news is possibly more engaging on social media than clickbait ads used to be. They are usually making money off of you from website ads or else they are trying to manipulate your beliefs.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Exodus 20:16 (ESV)
Here are 3 easy steps to avoid posting fake or sensational news on your social media accounts:
STOP. Don’t post something simply because it confirms your personal beliefs. Just stop. The fancy term for this is “confirmation bias”. We all have done this (I’m guilty as charged!) and it’s so easy to click that share button or to copy and paste something. It requires self control to stop ourselves.
VERIFY. Check if you can verify it from a primary source. Then corroborate it by checking for a second primary source that confirms the verified source’s claim. Then do due diligence by checking against any claims made to the contrary.
DISCARD. If you cannot verify the source, discard the post automatically. If you cannot corroborate the source, use careful language to indicate you are quoting a primary source (and not making a statement of fact, since a fact has not been established). There is a difference between saying “he/she says this is X” and saying “this is X”, but even then, if the source is not truthful, you run the risk of spreading something not truthful.
What is a primary source? News sites and social media posts are not primary sources, unless a primary source directly posts on one of those platforms. For example, a YouTube video saying a politician wasn’t bullied is not a primary source. However, if that politician writes a guest article or a Twitter thread about their experience of being bullied, that is a primary source. At this point, it is up to your discretion of whether or not the primary source is truthful, because primary sources can still lie. This is why corroboration is also important.
What is corroboration? In short, it is someone reputable who was there or who read the information being claimed and is saying “I saw it too.”
For example, a Fox News or CNN article including a video snippet of Donald Trump saying something is not corroboration. Videos can be selectively edited by either of these news outlets to fit their respective agenda. Seeing an unedited video on C-SPAN, however, is a way to personally corroborate something Donald Trump said at a speech.
Another example is if a friend or news site says something is or is not healthy for you. There are medical journals that document scientific studies in detail. If the claim has been verified by means of a double-blind study (which means there was an unbiased oversight of the test, thus a primary source plus corroboration) with a large study group, it is possibly a valid observation, but not inherently proven because science doesn’t prove anything. It observes. If the study in question was not double blind and/or the study group is small or the study was short term, it is highly likely to be error prone. A library with database access to these studies is your friend.
How about you?
How much do you value the truth? Has a news source tried to fool you before? How about a meme page or a YouTube video? Did you find primary sources to the contrary? How did those you know who fell for Fake News respond when shown evidence to the contrary? Did they dig their heels in? Apologize but keep the fake post up? Remove the post? How much do they value the truth?
Regardless, I have several personal predictions about how social media will shift in the next 2-4 years. Many of these predictions assume that Mark is telling the truth:
I thought Twitter was going to die by 2016 or 2017. I was wrong. Twitter appears to have a second wind thanks to Donald Trump, artists, and software developers. However, if Twitter doesn’t add an edit button and enforce their own rules, their second wind may not last.
Instagram and WhatsApp will continue to grow.
Facebook is the new MySpace. It’s messy, convoluted, and low-EQ people have dumped a huge mess into this platform. Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp will be receiving more attention by Facebook going forward and will have cross-network messaging enabled in the next 2 years. WhatsApp users can talk to Instagram users, for example.
Social Media ads will become less effective for most vendors on Facebook proper. However, in-line ads and bot suggestions will continue to thrive on Messenger, and may expand to WhatsApp.
Ad targeting may become restrictive. I would be surprised if the strategy and algorithms didn’t dramatically change.
Blogging software and platforms, such as WordPress, will grow in popularity as people find ways to own their platform and data.
Search engine ads may see a resurgence.
A blockchain will arrive for rapid international money transfers over social media. It won’t stop there. Hopefully it will build on what the Brave browser is trying to do. It will reward users for seeing ads on social media platforms. Users will use awarded blockchain tokens to buy things and reward content creators directly. These tokens will be convertible to fungible money and/or Bitcoin.
Badguys will still find creative ways to do badguy things. Fake news will still spread because low-EQ or low-IQ people will still repost them. Foolish journalists and politicians alike will still blame Facebook for those problems.
What do you think? You think social media will be taking some interesting steps forward, or not? Will we truly see positive changes for privacy on social media?