A Happy Community Would Be A Smaller Community: Why Social Media Sucks

Yesterday, the hobo-in-chief of Twitter got up on stage to say that their solution to online abuse was not to ban people who make death threats, or to crack down on bot-made accounts, or to even maaaybe consider getting rid of the Nazis, but instead to concentrate on topics instead of people!

This solution obviously sucks, because people show up at Twitter for the people. You choose the folks who entertain you and see what they have to say. The idea that Neil Gaiman or Kanye West might personally reply to you is one of Twitter’s slim draws, as is the concept that your clever microposts might make you into a Twitter superstar.

The problem is, of course, that some people are dicks – and worse, some people are dedicated dicks. The more famous you get on Twitter, particularly if it’s for political reasons, the more likely it is that you’ll be specifically targeted for destruction by a lot of people whose sole goal is to drive you off of Twitter.

In other words, like a lot of social media, Twitter has a weird problem: the more you use it, the more likely it is that you’ll be made miserable by its most dickish users.

But the solution is simple, right? If someone’s acting mean, ban them. There should be clear rules of conduct, enforced consistently, to tell people stuff that making comments like “You’ll get gassed like your grandparents” are way out of line.

Ah, but that’s not the way the stock market works.

See, the stock market rewards only one thing for social media: growth. Constant, cancerous growth. You have to have new users signing up all the time – your stock market goal is to beat Facebook – and if you can’t have new users continually signing up, then you have to beat Facebook’s metrics in terms of daily interactions and user return rates in order to keep getting that money flowing.

Now. If you ban a user, that’s one less person to tout on your quarterly reports.

Heck, let’s take it one further: if you ban a bot, a computerized user created solely for harassment, that is also one less user to show to your stockholders.

So they are disincentivized to ban anyone, let alone large swathes of the ill-behaving users.

But worse: they’re actually, secretly, incentivized to encourage trolls and whackjobs. Because, say what you will, the guy frantically searching for liberal tweets and typing “MAGA SUCK IT LIBS” seven hundred times a day into Twitter is, in fact, a really good user from Twitter’s perspective. He’s creating content, he’s seeing all the ads they’re selling, and if he says something really outrageous then a ton of libs, who do not wish to suck it, will link to him and generate more traffic.

The problem with social media is that trolls are some of their most valuable users. And you can’t just ignore them; in the world of Twitter, they’ll seek you out, and the Internet bleeds into the real world anyway in the sense that these dorks can occasionally call a SWAT team into your house.

Now, Twitter’s not alone here. YouTube has a similar problem, and so does Facebook. And part of the problem is that training humans to moderate debates is both expensive and soul-draining on the trained humans in question, and the social media folks are convinced that they can somehow automate the process of getting people to play nice.

But the actual problem is this:

A nicer community would be a smaller community.

The minute you start enforcing any guidelines that would encourage people to be kind – no matter how you define those guidelines – then you have to start kicking people off. Because the ugly truth is that “dumping everyone into the same room” doesn’t create a functioning community – a community is only forged when people agree on certain core values, and some people just don’t take to those values, so you have to remove them from that community to make it function.

(You see that with Facebook all the time. Their whole idea of “user engagement” is that “you’re connected with everyone you know equally,” and so if you friend freely there’s this continual weirdness of posting in places where your co-workers and your squash teammates – who were part of a different community – are suddenly transplanted into your community of so-called friends, often with disastrous results. There’s nothing wrong with just being workout buddies, but the core values of “We help each other to lift better” is often at odds with the core values of “Let’s talk about why we don’t need socialized health care.”)

So if Twitter said, “Okay, no more death threats! To anyone! Even if you’re just implying the world would be better off with these people dead!” then they’d lose some significant portion of their audience, both liberal and conservative, who really like telling people to fuck off and die. And then their numbers would drop, and the user engagement from the folks hammering “SUCK ON AN EXHAUST PIPE MOTHERFUCKER” into their keyboards over and over would drop, and suddenly their stock would drop.

So Twitter – and every other social media – is continually dancing around this core issue of “How can we fix this problem without fixing the obvious problem?” Because the obvious solution is right out: you can’t ban people. We need people. All the people. Even the complete buttmunchers, and maybe especially them.

What Twitter needs is community standards, and the institutional willpower to enforce them. And to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what those standards are; in time, after enough bannings, people will get the idea of what to expect and either hang around, or not.

But that would involve jettisoning people. And the American version of capitalism doesn’t reward that. The American version of capitalism wants THE BIGGEST, and sadly THE BIGGEST is at serious odds with THE HAPPIEST.

So it goes.

Read A Sample Chapter From My Upcoming Book THE SOL MAJESTIC!

They’ve posted the first chapter from my book THE SOL MAJESTIC over on the Tor blog. Now, that first chapter is a little rough on the reader – because it ends on a massive downer. Whereas in the next chapter, poor Kenna meets Paulius, the owner of the finest restaurant in the galaxy, who changes his fortunes – but if you want to at least meet the famed disaster-gay-come-itinerant-philosopher Kenna, well, he’s out in the wild.

And if you liked that, or if you just feel amenable to trusting an itinerant weasel, well, don’t forget that you get a free signed bookplate and a secret drink recipe if you preorder the book. There’s an abundance of places for you to order – Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borderlands Books, or the independent book store of your choosing – but really, any of them will do.

So go forth and read! And, hopefully, enjoy. A little. Kenna starts out in a pretty dire place, after all, but he has nowhere to go but up.

My Annual Seasonal Affective Disorder Has Arrived. Here’s What That Means.

“I was worried when you sent me pictures of the flowers blooming,” Fox said. Which is, apparently, my cue: when spring arrives and the daffodils burst into glorious life, my Seasonal Affective Disorder uncurls.

Which means that I am now battling my annual depression. Yes, it is inverted; most people have theirs in the winter. But I am a creature of the night, and “more sunlight” means “massive self-loathing.” And for the next month, I will be fighting horrific suicidal ideations.

For me, SAD starts lightly – just random sadnesses so intense that I have to restrain the urge to burst into tears. I’ll be walking along, everything fine, and then any happiness I have is abruptly crushed.

As the weeks go by, that intensifies into a weird aftereffect – the moment anyone leaves my sight, I become convinced that I am an anchor around their neck. They don’t really want to hear from me, I contribute nothing to their life, and in fact they would probably be better off if I left them. That’s when the suicidal ideation starts. (And, in fact, my two serious suicide attempts were both during my SAD.)

So I’ll be a little slow in answering queries, and prone to withdrawing. I’m terrified to talk to anyone, because I’m convinced this is the moment they will tell me that I’m correct and my entire existence is a burden to them. Or, alternatively, that they are actually okay with me and that the next thing I say will shatter that fragile tolerance.

I’ll be all right. I’m on extra doses of my medications in preparation for this, and my wife is watching me carefully. And if experience is any marker, it’ll be over by mid-to-late May – just in time for my novel to drop!

But if you want to help:

1) Understand that my often sporadic communication will be even more sporadic.
2) Text me/DM me over the next few weeks to tell me you’re thinking of me – pictures of faces help. (But as per #1, realize I may not be in a space to reply properly.)

I don’t like discussing this, truthfully. But this is life with a fairly impactful mental illness. And I think I owe it to people to be honest about what that entails.

The Secret To Our Successful Relationship: No Surprises Allowed.

It’s an ordinary Wednesday night. I’ve gotten off work; now it’s time to settle in, write some words, watch some television, and collapse into bed.

Someone comes rushing in, arms flailing: “THE UNICORNS ARE IN TOWN! THEY’RE GRANTING FREE WISHES TO ANYONE WHO WANTS THEM! THERE’S A CUPCAKE PARTY OF JOY AND HAPPINESS! COME ON!”

And my answer?

“…no.”

I had plans, you see. They were tawdry ones, even boring, but dammit, I had that night mapped out.

Doing anything else now would seem strange and frightening.

Which is silly, I know; I know some people who thrive on last-minute adventures, rushing off to pop-up kitchens and impromptu raves and oh my god someone saw a bird let’s go look at the bird.

But me? Though I love adventures, I hate re-engineering my future. Suddenly those plans of deteriorating slowly on the couch are tossed into the air, replaced with a furor of uncertainty for something I now have to do. How do I talk to the unicorns? Do I have a good wish ready? Is my diet ready to accommodate all those cupcakes?

It’s turbulent and stressful. And thankfully, my wife feels the same way.

Which is why we never surprise each other.

If the unicorn party ever comes to town, I know how my wife would handle it: she would walk into the room, exuding torrents of noncommittal vibrations, and say, “Hey. The, uh, unicorns? They’re in town. They’re granting wishes. What do you think?”

At which point she will pause for up to twenty minutes while my brain slowly, surely, jams the oars into my river of thought until it steers it in the right direction. Why not wish for cupcakes that don’t make you unhealthy? I think.

“Why, I believe I would like to go,” I would say. And off to the unicorns we’d head.

And I know this is helpful, because there’s been plenty of times I’ve rushed into the room to scream “OH MY GOD DID YOU SEE WHAT’S PLAYING AT THE CINEMA TONIGHT?” and it was a movie that Gini desperately wanted to see on the big screen and yet she tensed up and said “No” because dammit, she had no plans in particular but she’d been ready for those plans. These new plans felt like an onslaught.

Which is why, when I’m getting tired at the unicorn party, I wouldn’t just say to her, “We gotta go.” I’d sidle up to her and drop the idea in her ear: “Hey. I’m getting tired.” Which lets her gear down to the idea of leaving, and in a half an hour she’s ready to go when I am.

So we have an agreement: we do not have surprise plans. We have new plans, and an announcement of potentials, and a slow remapping of the evening, followed by joyous acquiescence.

We may arrive at the unicorns a little late. But we’ll get there. Eventually.

Compersion Is A Muscle.

I have a sweetie who’s been touch-deprived for a couple of months now; they’ve been travelling solo and exhausted by illness to boot.

Last night, they hooked up with someone.

And I was really, genuinely happy for them. Which is a change from a decade ago.

See, a decade ago, a close partner hooking up with someone new would have sent flurries of anxiety thrumming through me. I would have freaked out about whether that partner was better in bed, I would have fretted about how this new person would steal affection from me, I would have catalogued all my deficiencies and then done endless calculations to see what I had to do to be worthy of continued attention.

Today? Nothin’. I’m just genuinely filled with that poly-feeling called “Compersion,” where I’m happy if they’re happy.

Yet that happy feeling didn’t come naturally to me. We had to work on it. And I say “We” because as I’ve said before, compersion is something that only flourishes in a safe environment. It’s hard to feel thrilled for someone’s adventures when you do know that every new partner means less space for you, that their New Relationship Energy will eat into your old-and-tired dates.

Part of building that compersion muscle involves having partners who genuinely value you – the people who, even if they’re seeing other folks, are still over the moon whenever they see you.

But more importantly, getting that compersion muscle all swole involves some self-reflection and analysis. Because yes, your partners can lavish you with attention, but if you’re so caught up in your stress-ball that you don’t see what’s actually happening then it’s all for naught.

Because I had to notice that yes, my partners were happy about the sex (I specifically asked for no specific details, because I personally can’t handle that shit), but their enthusiasm for other-sex didn’t touch the sex they wanted to have with me.

Or, more critically, the love they wanted to have with me. My wife didn’t want to watch obscure Oscar films any less with me, my girlfriend didn’t want to play videogames less with me, my sweetie didn’t want to cuddle less. All the nonsexual things I valued about being with them never waned – or if they did, it wasn’t because of the sex, but because of other emotional frictions that were causing damage.

In time, I came to learn that sex was important to a functioning relationship, but it was not the only thing that held us together.

And then the other necessary lesson: over the years I came to internalize that idea that sex was a person-to-person thing, not a universal experience.

Which is to say that I used to have this idea that sex was an exam, and I was doing well, maybe like 85%, but someone could come along and score a 90% and then why would anyone want to smooch up the B student when they could get an A-?

And since then, I’ve come to understand that sex is more like the intense variety of food cravings. What I get with my wife is very distinct from what I get with my sweetie Fox, and that sex is not graded on some objective scale, but rather a desire that’s as unique as a key to a lock. There’s not a competition to be The Best at sex, but rather an urge to find out what we ourselves can create, and that’s actually led to better sex because instead of whipping out My Moves I’m more focused on who’s with me right here, right now.

None of that means that I’m immune from jealousy, of course; some people might evolve past it, but I don’t think I’m one of them. But it does mean at least with my long-term partners, the ones who’ve earned my trust, I can hear about a liasion they desperately needed and not think OH MY GOD I WASN’T THERE but “I’m really glad they got cuddles with someone, and I know those cuddles don’t mean they don’t want cuddles with me.”

It’s a good place. Even if it’s been a hike to get here, lemme tellya.

I’m Discussing Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children Series Over On Dream Foundry!

So Dream Foundry is a bunch of good folks who want to nurture all the people who are writing, or drawing, or videoing science fiction. They’ve got a Kickstarter to help get them up and running, if you care to donate –

But the important thing is that we’re discussing the themes and craft involved in Seanan McGuire’s excellent Wayward Children series over there. Every week I’m posting a few questions and discussing the answers, and frankly, we could use some more people to join in on the discussion. So if you love the Wayward Children series – and why wouldn’t you? it’s awesome! – then head over and check it out.