Book Review: Antisocial by Andrew Marantz

Antisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American ConversationAntisocial: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Techno-Utopians: Free speech for everyone!
Crazy Uncles: Let me tell you about the JQ!

Antisocial is an expansion of a series of articles Andrew Marantz wrote for the New Yorker covering the rise of social media as a news source and the right-wing extremists who used it to shift the Overton window. Marantz attempts to discuss some of the history, science, and psychology related to the way we process our news, and how that feeds into the social media experience. This, in turn, is used to show how the extremists have been able to successfully leverage social media to change the social landscape.

As I write this review, there are protests occurring across the USA in response to police violence against minorities. The police, in turn, have become violent in response to the protests, with footage of rampant assaults, documented lies, and targeting of anyone (particular the media) filming them in action. In response to this, some of the people mentioned in the book have organised their extremists to try and make the protesters look bad, with looting, provocation, and violence.

So this was a timely read. Much of the content wasn’t necessarily new to me, as I’ve read around this subject for a while now, but there were still plenty of insights to be had. This was much more in-the-trenches than other books and articles on the right-wing extremists (alt-lite, alt-right, etc), as such you see much more of the central figures. When you see videos from McInnes or Cernovich or the like, they are performing for their audience/followers, you get a much better idea of who they are when the camera is off. This makes some of the players seem reasonably relatable if still “deplorable”, like Cernovich, while others you see them as even worse than first thought, like Spencer.

There was something I noticed about everyone covered in this book. They reminded me of 14-year-olds. The guys were engaged in what amounted to oafish attention-seeking with all the intellectual sophistication of hammers. The women were doing the less macho version of attention-seeking. Yet these were predominantly people in their 30s. The behaviour they should have grown out of, particularly the trolling/bullying, had become amplified by their uniformed and racist politics.

I think the worst part of this isn’t that these people have managed to infiltrate the mainstream with their lazy politics and anti-intellectualism,* but that the social media platforms were quite happy to make money promoting them. The social media giants are presented in the book as naive and heavily pro-free speech, but I think that is too kind. To use an example, Facebook would censor any depiction of female nudity without prompting, but wouldn’t censor blatant bigotry (racism, sexism, etc) even with piles of complaints. As long as threats were veiled enough, they were fine as well. And the outrage would drive engagement and traffic, which made Facebook money, so they didn’t address the ten-tonne elephant in the room.

As I finished Antisocial, I listened to an interesting podcast called It Could Happen Here. The series is from 2019 and looks at how (primarily right-wing) extremists could set off a second civil war in the USA. Many of the points raised in the book were also mentioned in the podcast, so I recommend giving it a listen. And as I mentioned above, it’s rather timely given the protests happening at the time I’m writing this.

Worth reading if you want to know more about why you can’t have a civil conversation anymore.

* A point I should make here is that I’ve noticed some of these people have some very good points. They are anti-establishment for good reason, the establishment is for the rich and powerful, not them. Of course, they take this insight in the wrong direction. One quote really stuck out from Cernovich when he criticised the warmongering that the various politicians push for and establishment media debate, both safe in the comfort of knowing them and their families won’t be the ones dying in combat. But again, they take that insight in the wrong direction, with political positions that are essentially pro-conflict and war.

View all my reviews

https://www.iheart.com/podcast/1119-it-could-happen-here-30717896/?embed=true

Word limits: or how to learn to stop writing and love the full stop

 

140-characters
Source

Every now and then I masochistically log onto Twitter to see what passes for civil discourse amongst the people trying to sell you stuff and those not quite racist enough to be booted to Gab. When I recently logged on, a couple of the authors I follow were updating their fans with their novel progress, or what was currently distracting them from writing.

What interested me about these updates was that several authors were talking about having to trim their draft by 50-65%. That’s right, authors who needed to hand in a 100,000 word manuscript to their publisher were having to trim 100-200,000 words from their novel.

Word limits are a funny thing. I’ve never had a problem being succinct, to the point that my editing usually involves added 15-20%. Yet these successful authors* are having to sit down with their editors to cull half their manuscript. And if we’re being honest, some successful authors** should have culled a lot more and saved their readers all that page skipping.

One of the good things that Twitter trains you to do, aside from teaching you that trolling people is perfectly okay, is how to express yourself succinctly in 140 280 characters. It forces you to practice creating a thought or sentence in a manner that may be foreign. For example, the complex phrase:

I disagree with your supposition as it is currently unsupported by any evidence, either presented by yourself or in the scientific literature, thus there is no reason for me to support your statements. I would also question how rational your supposition is, because despite the lack of evidence, there is no reason to suspect that there is any industry conspiracy trying to deny Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson an Oscar for Best Actor.

Can be replaced with:

Lol, moron!

This says everything that is needed and doesn’t dance around the topic. Conversely, the reply to this can be shortened from:

Whilst you are allowed to disagree with me, my opinion still stands. I cannot provide a summary of the relevant scientific literature at this time, but this is information that is readily understood and referenced in the literature. Thus I will endevour to provide a few examples when I am able to, but in the meantime I’d invite you to read further on the topic, as I suspect that you will agree with me once you have. I will admit, however, that the literature on this topic is currently inaccessible due to paywall restrictions, thus this unsourced blog post will have to suffice until such time as the academic publishing model is reformed.

Can be replaced with:

Well screw you and the horse you road up on.

The trick is to start with what your key points are and not overuse exposition to explain those points. The 140 280 character limit can help with this a lot.

In the meantime, if you aren’t a fan of See Mike Draw, I suggest you become one now.

* Maybe that is why they are successful authors and I’m still in that emerging author category. Perhaps it is time to write double the amount I need.

** Obviously not the authors I follow.

4 Reasons to Make Your Email Public

I read a blog post recently that suggested it is a good idea to make your email address publicly available on your webpage (and elsewhere). This is a great idea. The blog author listed 4 reasons, so I’ll list another 4.

Because everyone needs an extra couple of inches on their penis.
Even if you are a woman. Maybe especially if you are a woman.

How will SEO marketers contact you without your email?
Except via the comments and domain registry information.

Nigerian Royalty could be trying to contact you.
I hear they need to give away money to people they don’t know.

From See Mike Draw. Become a fan NOW!
From See Mike Draw. Become a fan NOW!

Because there is no such thing as social media and direct messaging.
I mean, who even has a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Google+, etc, account these days? And there are definitely no features that allow you to privately contact the person via those mediums.

Word limits

140-charactersWord limits are a funny thing. I’ve never had a problem being succinct, in fact I can be too brief in my writing. Yet other writers are known for sitting down with editors to cull half their manuscript. There are other writers still that should have sat down with an editor and culled half their manuscript and saved the readers all that page skipping.

This is one of the reasons to like Twitter. It forces you to practice creating a thought or sentence in a manner that may be foreign. For example, the complex phrase:

I disagree with your supposition as it is currently unsupported by any evidence, either presented by yourself or in the scientific literature, thus there is no way you can sway my position.

Can be replaced with:

Lol, moron!

This says everything that is needed and doesn’t dance around the topic. Conversely the reply to this can be shortened from:

Whilst you are allowed to disagree with me, my opinion still stands. I cannot provide a summary of the relevant scientific literature at this time, but this is information that is readily understood and referenced in the literature. Thus I will endevour to provide a few examples when I am able to, but in the meantime I’d invite you to read further on the topic, as I suspect that you will agree with me once you have.

Can be replaced with:

Well screw you and the horse you road up on.

The trick is to start with what your key points are and not overuse exposition to explain those points. The 140 character limit can help with this a lot.

In the meantime, if you aren’t a fan of See Mike Draw, I suggest you become one now.

New climate info graphic

I wrote a little satirical book review about a notorious science journal called Energy & Environment, which is the go-to place for people who think the Earth is flat and that climate change isn’t happening. I’ve written a few articles on the topic myself and I’m also rather active in promoting climate science and renewable energy (just read my Twitter and Facebook feeds). As a result the author of the Infographic below – Allison Lee – contacted me. So enjoy a few climate facts from the graphic below and share it to continue to raise awareness.

 

dc025d3f71b724ff30194602e1ae1f2b

Created by: Learnstuff.com

Reasons why writing is better than a real job

At the end of a day of writing you don’t feel like stabbing yourself in the eye with a pencil.

Writing can be done at any time, rather than nine till five, which is much better suited to sleeping.

Dressing for work is optional. And I mean optional.

Work shoes don’t have to have a safety rating or glossy shine, they only have to be wool lined and comfy.

If you spend all of the money your boss gives you and fail to complete your job on time, nobody is really that surprised.

All of that wasted time on the internet is “research”.

Drinking on the job is mandatory rather than discouraged.

Emailing, Facebooking, tweeting and blogging are important networking, not procrastination.

Shaving is no longer a daily chore, it is a sign you are going out in public for a change.

Work colleagues are people you only see at festivals, or chat to on Facebook when you can’t be bothered working.

Paperwork? What paperwork?

The arrival of the mail is a daily highlight, rather than something you check for as you arrive home.

Bah, humbug

It is the season to be jolly, apparently. The jolliest people are, of course, retailers, who are doing their impersonations of Scrooge McDuck swimming. The rest of us are just happy to have some time off work and an excuse to eat until our arteries congeal and drink until the tile floor looks comfy.

Don’t get me wrong, Xmas is a lovely time of year, but I have some issues with it.

1) It’s Xmas not Christmas.
This celebration stopped being about Christ’s birthday when shops started advertising how many shopping days there were left before Xmas. I’m glad we have the holiday but lets stop pretending it is a religious holiday. To the 16% of Australian’s (check your country stats here) who actually attend church, feel free to ignore this point. And yes I’m aware of the irony here.

2) Xmas cards.
I understand the idea of sending correspondence to family and friends and given the “holiday season” it only seems logical to catch up with people. But I’m under 40, so I have Facebook, Twitter, Email, Linkedin, mobile phones, and know how to use them. Sending cards feels like people the world over are taking a vow of technophobia in order to contract hand cramps and level a rain forest.

3) Xmas lights.
I think the goal of Xmas lights, if I am understanding them correctly, is blind people in the space station orbiting Earth. In the day and age of climate change, when we really should be cutting down on energy usage, we decide to set up a whole lot of lights to blind people. It has become a competition between neighbours and streets to see who can have the most gaudy display of flashing eyesores. The winner is usually the person or street who wake up to the electricity bill in January realising they need a second job and to sell a kidney.

4) Caroling.
Why is it that people only remember for the other eleven months of the year that they can’t sing?
Which also brings me to:

5) Xmas songs.
I’m not talking about the traditional carols here, I’m talking about the saccharine odes to love and presents that bombard the airwaves from every pop singer/group the world has to offer. These “artists” were barely tolerable in small doses as it was, but the competition to have the highest selling drink coaster means you can’t even go near a TV or radio for fear of diabetes and the desire to hug a puppy.

6) The celebrity biography.
Speaking of stocking stuffers, every Xmas there must be more celebrity biographies bought for Dads the world over than any other time of year. In fact, it is safe to say that the book reading statistics are built on this Xmas tradition of buying a book no-one wants to read for people who don’t read in the first place. Is it really a surprise that so few people read when the only book they start each year is about the mundane life of somebody with decent hand-eye coordination or a backstabbing politician proposing to tell all, but really just relating the party political line of events. I’d prefer the socks.

With that said, Merry Xmas everyone!

Dear Buddha, please bring me a pony and a plastic rocket.

Social media

In internet terms I’m somewhat of a noob. I was late to Facebook, I held out on joining message boards and forums, I even had a personal campaign to avoid the vapidness of Twitter. Now, of course, I am happy to admit that I was wrong. Social media is awesome.

There are some down sides of course. I’m not a huge fan of the salespeople posing as real people on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and the various forums I frequent. There are only so many times per day that I need to be told that my penis is not big enough, that I could be making money on Twitter by being a douche, or that someone I’ve never conversed with has a book for sale.

What I love about social media is the friends I’ve made, the great conversations I’ve had and all the catching up I’ve managed to do with friends I don’t get to see regularly. I have just joined Linkedin and discovered a friend of mine has two start up companies (check them out: http://www.cockjox.com/ http://tidyclub.com/). How would I have found that out between now and the next time we catch up for a beer?

Anyway, you can join me on the links below. We can chat, I’ll be funny, quote some science and talk books.

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