I encountered two interesting conversations on twitter today, leading me to the conclusion that we won't be able to comprehensively deal with disinformation online any time soon.
The first is the following from Tadhg Hickey:
If you can't read that screen-grab, this is what he says:
Not telling you kids what to do, but I stopped engaging with anonymous accounts (bar those who explain who they are in DMs). I don't even block them, that's attention. My twitter experience has improved tenfold. If you're hiding & hating, I wish you well though, really
My first instinct was to scream to the world that it's not "anonymous", it's "pseudonymous"1. But that's not the real problem I have. What I see is that Tadhg has fallen into the trap laid out by a great many anti-internet campaigners by furthering the trope that …
anonymity => bad intent
"If only we can eliminate anonymity online," so the trope goes, "the internet would be a much better place." I actually think that the trope would be more coherent if we talk about pseudonymity rather than anonymity, but it would also highlight how dangerous it is.
Also interesting was this interaction with Mick Clifford, which I quote-tweeted with a comment:
If you can't read that, here is what he said:
Left activists like you? You could be Justin Barrett for all the rest of us know. You could be a cyborg. What are you afraid of?
Mick was replying to a tweet from LeahNiD, who responded to him with:
Wtf are you on about - I'm lost or else you're losing it.
My acc, as most who follow me know, is neither fake or anon as you've suggested.
My Twitter handle is @leahnid ie. Leah Ni Dhochartaigh/Leah Doherty & I post regularly about where I live
Here, Mick is suggesting that @LeahNiD's account is not authentic, suggesting that it is anonymous/pseudonymous in the way that Tadhg describes:
pseudonymity => bad intent
Many who read Mick's columns, or listen to his contributions on various radio broadcasts and podcasts, will regard him as informed and analytic, will believe he's done his research, and will take that tweet at face value and accept the slur.
I don't know Leah Ní Dhochartaigh, and I don't follow the twitter account @LeahNiD. However, without any clear evidence to suggest otherwise, I have no reason at all to think the account isn't authentic.
It seems to me that Mick Clifford also has no reason to think the account isn't authentic, at least he seems not to offer his reasons.
We hear more and more about how disinformation is a scourge of the internet; how is it responsible for so much of the bad stuff that we experience these days. However, if respected commentators with national platforms decide whimsically to slur those who disagree with them, then we haven't a hope, really, in the fight against disinformation, have we?
… and now, as I proof-read this post, I wonder how he knows that they explain who they are in DMs without interacting with them!
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