Championship 10-is

As a stamp collecting teenager (oh come on, it’s obvious), I risked the wrath of philatelists by barely caring about the packets of definitives bought from WH Smith each week while taking care to count each stamp from every country or even totting up the face value of every stamp, and compiling charts and lists. Borderline autism or generally bloke-ish behaviour? A little from column A and list B….and chart C….and all the rest of them.

At one time, “news aggregators” were the unassuming corner of the Internet, functional and a bit boring. What happened next appears to be contamination with whatever icky fluid comes out when the ‘net starts leaking; aggregating news and affairs is all very well, but what people really like are MEMES and GIFs and KITTENS. And lo did come website brands mixing snappy images and quirky copy, and now the laziest trick in print journalism has come to the Internet for good – and by the heavens does cyberspace love it when laziness from print actually works out for them. “Time Sink” websites, those created to promote their own writers’ versions of comedians snarking “What’s THAT about?” over two pages, now make up most Facebook and Twitter feeds, hitting all the usual buttons for general consumption on a lazy office day or dull commute.

From the bog-book to the browser, “time sink” websites have made the Top 10 list their own, and just as they’re the product of mixing education with entertainment, they’re proving successful in making waves in news reporting too. Well, not “reporting” per se, but both US and UK politics exist with a parallel commentary on-line fuelled by BuzzFeed and the like running gifs and video clips of politicians and protests, feeding an on-line audience with the highlights of a political issue without having to bother with all the formality of television news or newspaper copy. Add to that video accounts, such as WatchMojo, and it appears the fastest growing market on-line is chart countdowns.

BuzzFeed aims to become more involved with news and current affairs in the coming years, which bodes well for British politicos preparing for 2015. It has already spread far from listing ten funny pictures of cats into such Facebook favourites as inspirational quotes and modified National Geographic style photographs. It can, and will, only grow bigger as the power of the easily consumed, rapidly forgotten list site stretches beyond the boundaries of the Internet. Watch how the tabloid press adopts the practices of BuzzFeed – and how the broadsheets ape Wired or Mashable with “click along for the next photo, what do you mean advertising revenue?” model of article construction.

The growing popularity of the list article and the “time sink” sites that use them may fade, if the internal battle between informative article and Internet feature is won by the latter. Sites such as Mental Floss and Cracked have amazing engagement figures from merely placing a link on Facebook, such ‘lazy clicks’ as happen in their thousands whenever people browse on their phones or tablets. What interests me is not so much the reduction of so much information into chunks, but how American sites have cornered the market so rapidly. All the main players – from Mashable to Cracked – are American, and ‘news aggregators’, where this all started, are mostly American too. Is the trivia gene dying out in the UK or are Americans more tuned-in to the ‘net’s opportunities to make advertising revenue out of the instant attraction to top 10 lists and collated video clips?

Memo to self – draft ‘Top Ten Differences Between US and UK websites by tomorrow’

Trolling away…

Is this sort of behaviour from Nadine Dorries (MP for Mid-Bedfordshire) an example of trolling?

What about this tweet from Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan?

I ask because in Ye Olde Days ‘to troll’ meant to post provocative content, often repeatedly, to fish for reactions. What Dorries and Hannan are doing above matches my understanding of “troll” in the early days of messageboards and chat-rooms. Neither example fits into what I understand to be the “new” definition, which could be leading us into trouble.

I appreciate language moves on and develops on-line and off, which is why we say “apps” and “ghost town” rather than “programmes” and “Google +”. But how has troll been adapted and adopted so much that it appears to have become the go-to buzzword for any kind of negative behaviour? Or for that matter any kind of perceived bad behaviour? I don’t remember the day when the definition flipped from ‘mild irritant’ to ‘anybody swearing on the Internet’, and I don’t believe it’s particularly helpful for debate to have the new definition continue unchecked.

As with David Cameron’s attempt to tackle on-line porn with a belief that everything from a thirty-second wanking video to a full three-hour HD clusterfruitcake is the same thing (and therefore MUST BE BANNED *pitchfork*), I fear some people are confusing and conflating all manner of different Internet character traits into one big blob of negativity for the sake of advancing a cause they don’t fully understand. Indeed there’s a danger that those shouting “TROLL” are guilty of trolling themselves, refusing to countenance debate and blocking anybody who questions their logic. It’s a very difficult task to balance defiance with diligence and often those who refuse to enter conversations can be those who shout loudest about fairness, freedom of expression, and the right to free speech.

Let’s be honest about the level of debate on-line, particularly Twitter. It’s not great. This is not quite how the Greeks would have imagined democratic discourse. People get very angry behind keyboards for all manner of reasons – they think the laptop screen is a defense shield, they think the keyboard gives them special powers, they think the Internet is a “leveller”, making celebs, MPs and the like fair game for talking to like anybody else. It’s another “fine line” argument; to what extent to we allow people to swear, insult and flail about and what is the acceptable cut-off point between acceptable responses and unacceptable content?

Calling David Cameron a “cock”, a “cunt”, and a “ham-faced wanker” each and every time he posts a tweet has swiftly become a national hobby. It’s rude and crude and all the rest of it, but it’s generally harmless. It’s not trolling to automatically reach for the f-word, in my opinion, even if it’s right to call it rather childish and unproductive. If you want to discuss the rights and wrongs of D-Cam there are other places to do so on-line, and often with the space to fully express your opinions. The race to be first in an Internet argument has created an unfortunate situation whereby detailed responses are becoming increasingly rare, reducing many discussions into “bad verses good”, “yes verses no”, “right verses wrong” slanging matches. It’s little wonder that the insult “troll” has become just as easy to reach for as “wanker” in places such as Twitter where every letter counts.

But shutting down a conversation/debate/argument with “Whatever, you’re just a troll, bye” is insolence and childishness. The conflation and confusion in the changing definition of “troll” means that it’s all too easy for those idiots who threaten sexual abuse to innocent women to become associated with harmless people who just want an proper debate. It’s much harder to access politicians and celebrities if they use ‘troll’ to mean anybody who dares question their opinion. The Internet would not last long as a place to share ideas and opinions if the high-ups conclude that anyone who tries to debate is piss-taker or potential abuser.

It can mean the act of willingly taking the mickey for fun, just being silly, or poking the hornet’s nest. This is why we have to be careful about using it to justify policing the net.

What Caroline Criado-Perez has gone through just because she lobbied the Bank of England to accept Jane Austen on a banknote is the worst example of abuse. To be threatened with rape because of her campaign is basement level idiocy, grotesque and gruesome. Nobody should have to suffer such an onslaught of knuckle-dragging cuckoo-bananas lunacy. I have no doubt that many of her critics are idiots and trouble-makers without a genuine point to make if they had 1,000 days to think of one. Idiots of the highest order are acting like keyboard warriors, sending bomb threats to journalists for a cheap laugh, much in the same child-like manner that people make prank calls to the police. It’s not a “cheap laugh” at all for the people who have to suffer the constant flow of sludge into their inboxes.

All this said this is where my default position kicks in. I have always felt uneasy whenever I hear about added regulations against free speech. There’s a very serious argument to be had about the future policing of the Internet, whether or not it ends up led by a highly committed group of female rights campaigners with Parliamentary support. I cherish the freedom of speech and right to reply which the Internet allows, just as I cherish the need to fight back against abusive behaviour. This debate may redefine the Internet in the UK forever, which is why I hope we can agree on what exactly “trolling” is before everybody gets the Internet they wished for…

Pornhuff

If you visit one of the plentiful Adult Entertainment websites around the Internet, you may find yourself looking at dozens of small screens providing a preview of the delights on the other side of the link beneath them. Now I understand that people don’t visit Adult Entertainment websites all the time, so to provide a clue to their layout, here’s some clips.

Oh sorry, that appears to be the Daily Mail. Whoops. Slap my *innocent face*, how could I make that mistake?

There’s been an ongoing Puritan streak through 2013 in the UK, something I’ve blogged about before in similar circumstances to where we are this week. The Independent newspaper has slumped around the “dark web” to pour yet more ‘evidence’ against the safety of the Internet in general and David Cameron maintains that the battle between Google and the Government can only go in one way.

The oh-so-moral Daily Mail has preached about its “success” in pushing David Cameron to stick an pornography opt-in for each and every ISP in the land. And we all say, “Oh for the love of the 21st Century….”

Right at the core of this argument is misunderstanding, a confusion of what is meant by “porn”. Feminists arguing against Page 3, child protection campaigners and tabloid hacks have all been squeezed and squashed and thrust together to make a single clusterfruitcake of chaos. It’s not a coherent argument to say “ALL PORN IS BAD”, nor “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN”. Neither is it a moral victory to block porn in the UK at the same time as championing the breasts, legs, buttocks and stomachs of every A- B- C- D- E- F- G- H- I- J- K- L- M- N- O- P- Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y and Z- list celebrity woman who dares walk out  of home, work or nursery with(out) make-up. The very last breaths of a dying mainstream media stinks of puritanical hysteria, and such a combination of contradictory stances can only come from a source confused about the target of its protests.

I’m not here to demand freedom for everyone to access anything they want. It’s sensible for companies to restrict what can be accessed through free wi-fi such as The Cloud or through public libraries, etc. Parents of young children are completely within their rights to restrict or reduce Internet access on their own terms. Of course material which goes beyond the definition of extreme into criminal harm or abuse or violence must be stopped; but that’s what existing computer misuse laws exist to catch.

Crowing about blocking access to porn is the most backwards of all regressive steps, and Lord above knows how many strides into antiquity this country takes with each passing year. It’s bad enough living in a 19th century state with regards to drug law, attitudes to sexuality/gender politics and electoral administration/democracy, without having to add private use of personal computers to the list. I remember that crass and ignorant maxim – “If we change our way of life, the terrorists have won” – and now wonder whether every Cabinet Minister chose to run with it as a general daily slogan. This isn’t just “Yes Minister” levels of administrative hell, this is “The Day Today” gone feral.

What exactly is the “porn” which scares the Daily Mail so much? Do they appreciate the small percentage of extreme material which exists amongst the thousands of fuzzy, out-of-focus, barely entertaining amateur material uploaded to XTube every day? Have they checked out PornHub to audit an accurate ratio of 30-second wanking clips to subscription site previews? Is this the end of Cam4 as we know it?

As with drink, drug and sexuality policy, this country needs a grown up discussion on pornography. It’s beyond pathetic to live in a 21st Century democracy on the eve of the Prime Minister announcing the curtailing of personal freedom and choice on the back of a blind, quasi-religious freakout. The entire issue has been conflated and confused into a breathless crusade against sex, ignoring genuine problems (female body issues, much ignored male body issues, sex worker health and safety) for the sake of a quick thrill at the dispatch box. It’s bad enough living in a state where the ‘great sins’ are considered fair game in the race to the panic button, I’m not sure exactly how we can show our faces if the right to watch sex on a screen is robbed by here today gone tomorrow politicians.

I don’t care about “Won’t somebody think of the children?” I’m bothered by  “Won’t somebody think of the adults?!”

Gangbanged

Following a Daily Mail witch-hunt/campaign and the Conservative MP Claire Perry’s “Independent Inquiry” into online child protection (see the very good post from Ministry of Truth about defining the words ‘independent’ and ‘inquiry’ in this context), the UK is one step closer to State approved Internet censorship. The proposed law is now available to view, with its innocuous enough title of the “Online Safety Bill”.

I was born in the distant 1980s, making my relationship with adult material follow the usual path of “blissful ignorance”, “Late night Channel 4”, “dog eared copies of Whitehouse”, “copied VHS passed on from a friend of a friend’s friend” and then “Internet access” somewhere around early teenage-dom. If you don’t know ‘Eurotrash’ with the sound turned down and a quilt underneath the door, you don’t know the eagerness with which boys of a certain age wanted to see subtitled naughtiness.

That level of smut is a world removed from the Internet age, in which people of all ages are one Google search away from seeing all manner of explicit bits, bops and fiddling about. There is almost no taste or fetish for which a website exists, and the popularity of YouTube-style amateur upload sites makes it all the easier for a couple (or a lone bloke feeling a bit frisky) to show the world how they’re feeling for about…five minutes (three if, you know, it’s been a hard day at work and I’m tired and this bed isn’t very comfortable and…anyway…..).

As we all know, the Internet cannot be censored, making every innocent search for the latest news headlines or an amusing cat picture one click away from Roxxie Thrust-McKenzie having her way with two garage mechanics….

…No, sorry, the Internet can be censored to a degree already, with parental controls and filters. As with most things in life, forbidden fruit is thought to taste better, which is how most teenagers end up smoking, trying weed, drinking cider in a park or trying to view naughty images on line. Forget to change Google’s image search to “safe” is enough to reveal Page 3 models showing their assets, after all. “Opt in” systems for any kind of assumed adult material has all the practicality of attempting to stop office workers from playing Minesweeper. The point being – if grown adults decide to filter/control Internet access under their own roofs, they can do.

Suggesting that the Internet should be censored or blocked in some way often comes from those “in the know” who choose to ignore that ‘temptations’ can also incorporate video footage of hostage beheading, graphic CCTV footage of car crashes or the 9/11 attacks. Graphic footage of Premier League footballers having their legs broken during play can be on YouTube or Daily Motion within fifteen minutes of it happening. These graphic examples are often dismissed or ignored by advocates of Internet policing, an attitude which differentiates between violence and sex, but not between different kinds of erotica. The lie – “It’s about making the Internet safe for children” – is retold enough times to suggest that no middle ground possibly exists between “free for all” and “State approved content”. Are certain lobby groups unable to suggest out loud that parents might be to blame for children searching for XTube? Or are MPs ignorant to how the Internet is navigated beyond blogs and Twitter?

Of all the worrying/facepalm inducing sentences in Perry’s report is the recommendation that – ” The Government should also seek backstop legal powers to intervene should the 
ISPs fail to implement an appropriate solution. ” If private companies won’t deal with Internet access, then the State is going to have to haul them to court! That’ll teach them to know their own customers, control mechanisms and processes! It’s almost as though there’s wilful blindness going on…

There is much to debate about the pornography industry itself – from what viewing explicit material might do to a person over a long-period to safeguarding the wellbeing of those who choose to participate in the industry. Parents have a responsibility to educate their children to whatever extent they feel comfortable doing, a stance which might put me on the opposite side of the room to Harriet Harman. (If there’s any view I hold which puts me with Harman, I might have to consider medication). As user generated content websites prove, there’s only so much of a moral crusade pressure groups can inflict across cyberspace to defeat the great Porn Demon – humans will always feel sexual urges and some will feel comfortable in sharing their acts amongst an audience. The all encompassing “opt in” will do nothing to stop shadier/un-registered parts of the industry from exploiting the vulnerable or abused, it will only make the Morality Police feel better about themselves. That rush of self-congratulation might soon fade if the “opt in” accidentally blocks ordinary material (as some mobile phone blocks incorporate Facebook and Twitter) or accidentally ignores potentially arousing images (such as tabloid newspaper’s favoured roll call of flashed knickers, bikini beach shots and the like).

“Opt in” adult content will not make the Internet cleaner, or teenagers less likely to share dirty photos through text messages or BBM/MSN. Whilst it’s easier to deny freedom of thought than it is to research why sexual content is so popular to view/share/experience, the State is much more comfortable getting its groove on, and for that, we’re all left drowning in a deeply unsatisfactory wet-patch.

From 140 characters to infinity…

21 years ago, the first Gulf War changed television and radio reporting for ever. CNN – not exactly storming ahead in its field – grew in stature and reputation with its one groundbreaking concept. Suddenly their raison d’etre made sense. Newspapers had the content, but did they have the reaction speeds, depth of commentary and instant replay? CNN defined and justified television news, something we now take for granted. Twenty-one years is a lifetime in broadcasting, and from CNN all those years ago, May 2011 has witnessed the next great revolution in news reporting. It has come not from the “mainstream” media (of which, arguably, CNN is now firmly part), or even the “first generation” Internet names. For this month saw Twitter justify its reputation and support amongst thousands of loyal users, in addition to getting grudging respect from the news organisations it has ultimately usurped.

This tweet is the iconic symbol of Twitter’s “maturity moment”. The one man – Sohaib Athar – inadvertently became the poster boy for all that the live-tweeting, micro-blogging site could offer the world. Real time, uncensored, un-monitored reporting of events, often innocent and natural, more often than not trivial, all of which could be the snowballs to roll down and create headlines. Twitter was always a curiosity, and in many ways it has become much more one now, though it has also given the Internet the shine of respectability it needed in the field of news. Just as CNN did in the 90s, now Twitter has shown the credible side of its quirky selling point.

Twitter began to buzz with news that President Obama would be making a very serious announcement at 2145 Eastern Time (about 0230/0300 GMT). Thirty minutes later, Keith Urbahn, the former chief of staff for Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted his exclusive .

“So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”

Between 2145 and 2215, Twitter was alive with rumours, jokes, repeated jokes, claims, and counter-claims. The Twitter organisation itself reported that by the time President Obama was confirming the news – over an hour and twenty minutes later – 6,000 messages a second were being written with his name. That totals countless millions sent in the period from the initial rumour to the rolling MSM analysis.

Twitter has been the place to go for so-called “live tweeting” or “dual screening” for some time now. In the UK, episodes of The Apprentice, Match of the Day, or even Great British Menu, can be enjoyed by watching thousands of viewers giving thumbs up or down whilst the show is on air. Writer Mark Gatiss has said watching programmes he has written (such as Doctor Who) with Twitter on his phone “would drive him mad”. Soon-enough feedback (the notices and reviews in next day’s papers) has now become
instant, running parallel to the programme itself. The “Osama day” on Twitter went one step further – effectively running ahead of the news agenda and laughing when traditional television journalists jogged towards them sweating and panting.

The Mumbai bombings was the first real event which suggested Twitter’s potential. CNN, ironically enough, commented on how the programme was “ahead” of them, with the news-gatherer having to be careful with every detail and source it received. With little filtering (and no checking for repeated jokes), Twitter can forge ahead where broadcasters rarely can tread. Whilst this is an issue, it’s also a bonus. No filtering, no censuring – the most gruesome of videos and the most belly-hurting jokes, all streaming down the news-feed in a collection of views, news and opinions. During the anti-cuts marches in London, protesters used Twitter and Suki to plan sites to gather and police hotspots to avoid. Whilst watching the UK’s first ever leaders debates, the “Iagreewithnick” meme blossomed into a T-shirt slogan and backhanded compliment.

Internet historians like to mark exactly when new phenomena or language became popular. Who wanted their kittens to speak in Creole first? When did someone first notice the bloke who couldn’t carry all his limes? When did emos start taking photographs at funny angles, and where did they go before tumblr? 2 May 2011 is the cyber-historians newest milestone. It’s the day newsgathering and reporting became something new – deeper whilst still giddy, stronger though unpredictable. Years after having its existence questioned by critics and sceptics, the newest darling of the 2.0 generation has grown into a very lucrative (and beautiful) swan. From the alternative to status updates, to the latest version of ticker tape…And I still find the time to update people on how crowded the 1647 Leyland service back home is every workday.

antisocial media

One early episode of The Simpsons – maybe even the very first – showed Homer attempt to throw away the family television on the advice of Marvin Monroe. Crudely drawn and not particularly funny, the episode is also ludicrously unrealistic. Homer would no more give up TV than Duff or hotdogs.

Rather than giving up the idiot box, it has given up me. Or given up on me: my eleven year old TV/DVD combo finally stopped working earlier this month. Visiting my house recently has been a course in regression therapy; no television, no internet access. I would be a perfect candidate for David Mitchell’s “The Bubble”, although I would not be able to watch the final result. It could be edited to suggest I wasn’t there at all; or contributed nothing to the programme other than staring with desperate eyes at Victoria Coren (oh come on, she’s bound to me on, it’s a panel show).

Not having television only began to become quite annoying after the general election campaign, proof that being within the election process puts a person off the whole thing for life. It’s not just missing the football (or even cricket) that has started the process of growing tetchy at the empty box in the corner of the room. Rather than flipping open the laptop to discuss the provisional England team or the new Foals album, or whatever it was I used to do after work, (I’ll hear nothing about spending hours playing Runescape. It just didn’t….Well, okay, once. More than once. Shut up, I’ve lost my train of thought….)

….Football, yes, that’s it. I spent an hour or so putting up with Mark Bright on Radio 5 Live making the case for Glen Johnson, followed by a man whose voice I couldn’t place arguing that Phil Jagielka could still be an outside bet for South Africa. Unlike the talking heads on Sky Sports News (usually a couple of Chelsea players who last put on the shirt in 1987 and are even too Z-list for Question of Sport), I had no other option but to keep on listening. Unless it’s late enough to switch to Radio 4, channel hopping isn’t an option. It’s an analogue radio, for one, complete with competing frequencies bleeding into whatever I’m listening to; it’s like listening to the radio on acid, presenters voices turning into knife-sharp Dalek noises.

(All that said, is there still an outside chance for Villa’s Agbonlahor? Okay, okay, I know he has “Walcott Disorder”, combining a sprinter’s pace with all the shot of accuracy of a NATO bomber over Serbia, I’m a traditionalist with forwards….)

Listening to recent events on the radio only adds a certain atmospheric flavour. Athens and Bangkok going up in flames has all description and atmosphere of a radio play. I fall asleep to Radio 4, waking up to the final broadcasts of the World Service before the Shipping Forecast. In short, I’m going slowly insane. One more night where dreams are infected by the commentary of South Asian farming communities or interviews with Bulgaria’s most high-profile opposition backbencher, and I may very well go on a rampage.

It’s not that I ignore the bigger pictures here – Britain has far too many low- and middle- income earners who cannot afford digital television or access to broadband internet, and the previous Labour Government failed to do anything about our lobsided telecommunications industry stifling the introduction of superfast broadband – it’s just after a month of not having even the chance to slump in front of Come Dine With Me has finally taken its toll. I am going to start taking brisk walks around town or cleaning up more often or something else equally out of character.

All things being well – and my financial state means, this could be a lofty boast – I should be purchasing a new netbook in two weeks time. Until then, no iPlayer, no messageboards, no late night MSN sessions sharing 80s theme tunes with my mates (what do you mean, ‘how old am I?’). From a distance, maybe it seems like a good thing, not having any access to the world outside bar the crackle and hiss of an analogue radio. Thing is, I know what not to be romantic about, and this sure ain’t a situation I want to fall in love with.

interruptions from history

FC Utd. Bank. Exploding lightbulbs. There’s a lot to remember after some time away.

And I’ve not, technically moved anywhere.

You need to listen to the Empire State, they’re very good.

I made it to FC Utd, for a very good struggle but ultimately a 2-0 defeat for the mighty Berske. For the first time I was, all things considered, the target for “You Scouse bastards” chanting. “They’ve got a Liverpool postcode, that’s enough for me,” commented a bloke on the tram back to Victoria.

Two days later, at home, normal service is not quite resumed, ending up 8-0 victors against a clearly hastily thrown together Durham side. Two goals disallowed (one for “pushing in the area”, which in non-league surely isn’t an issue?)

The Bank are getting testy. I haven’t been chased for the c/c so often before. I think it’s just the mood of the nation, such as it is. But they’ve got an increase in minimum payment, that’ll do for now. Covered tracks, sort of thing. Then I go and see a bloke on BBC News talking about how his wife and he managed to pay off some multi-thousand debt during the credit-crunch “which now is gladly over” or some such dribble. Balls to it, I say.

Woke up this morning (no, this ain’t a blues song), all my lightbulbs blown out. Need to get a torch. No, revision: I /have/ a torch but no batteries (damn Maplin). So may have to hot-foot it to Argos. Or buy matches. I’ll buy matches, probably.

I have limited time on this computer. Darn it! I must get internet access at home….

Away!