Sometimes I share things on Strava.

I deleted my Facebook page because I have qualms with their handling of personal data. Of course, lots of things ask me for personal information, and I share a lot of information too, which begs the question why it’s okay in one scenario and not the other.

I suppose the first part is a distinction: I conceded a while back that applications would want my personal data. This made me uneasy at first but eventually I relented, and I do like a lot of the services and customer experiences I get as a result.

However, I also take seriously how that data is managed. If I give Facebook permission to do something, and if I give an app permission to use that data, that’s it; these are the only groups I want handling that information unless otherwise specified in the terms (which are cumbersome to read, even to a lawyer.) Facebook’s breach of trust was not the mystifying terms of service to which I agreed, but rather they simply did not have a handle on the information at all and with whom it was shared.

Think of it like giving your social security number to a bank: maybe you don’t like sharing that information but it’s part-and-parcel with a lot of bank services, so you do it, but then you find out they’ve been loaning it out to a bunch of people — and they don’t know which people and it was accidentally on purpose and they can’t trace the audit trail back. Bad.

The next part is the kind of information I am used to sharing. I run, and I use Strava. I use Strava because my friends are on Strava. It tracks my routes and my times. I don’t love some of its metrics but it’s fine. Garmin and Smashrun do the same, but it’s the Strava link I share. I did wonder: why am I so willing to share my physical location and typical running routes?

After thinking it over – on my runs, go figure – I realized it had a lot to do with the fact that I am weighing the risk of being out in public every day. Some of this we all do. Men, women, old, young — we know that leaving our house poses a set of risks and we index on them. Women in particularly, however, have a more acute awareness of what it means to be out in public, especially alone, particularly if you’re alone at night. So I find myself accounting for this kind of risk all the time and have been since I was old enough for my school to give me the “Here is how you hold your keys like Wolverine” talk.

Thus the risk might increase and maybe I should rethink that much. If I find it somewhat unsafe to be on my own in a situation, it might be more unsafe if I am taking the same regular route. This might then increase if I post something on Twitter that a person doesn’t like. It could create an opportunity to harass or harm, and I would make the argument that this is a heightened risk online for women over men, as the former tend to be harassed as women and not simply because of the things they say, but I digress.

The kind of risk though? It might seem counterintuitive but I’m more or less used to it. A vulnerability like that runs through the entire part of my life that begins around adolescence. My calculus might change but its existence doesn’t phase me. The landscape of how we deal with these issues is also way more established. There are all kinds of victim-blaming that can occur in physical crime or privacy violations, but we’ve also been dealing with it for centuries and have some sense of what’s actionable and fair versus what is not.

Contrast that with digital privacy. The information I’m handing over is new. The way in which it is used against me is likewise novel, sometimes simply unknown. Leglislators and courts are at a loss on how to counter abuses and correct course. There is minimal to no accountability for the Googles and Facebooks of the world save for market accountability (one reason why I deleted Facebook) even if I am only a drop in the bucket. I have a much greater sense and familiarity with what I’m putting on the line when I post my runs on Strava than when I allow an app to access my photos on Facebook; I know where I go if something bad happens to me, and; I have a basic sense of potential avenues for redress.

Finally, there is something particularly galling about Facebook’s apology tour – or series of apology tours – that makes it that much harder to trust the company. Strava has had its own privacy kerfuffles, but it has also never positioned itself as caring all that much beyond basic control mechanisms. It knows you can triangulate one’s position from its GPS. Whenever there’s a substantive grievance, they take some remediation step, which is arguably sub-par, but never presented as an angelic “oopsie.”

This doesn’t excuse Strava, in my view; I know they are also sharing information. Nevertheless, I do feel like I have a much more realistic expectation with respect to how their app is properly used and what level of work I need to engage in to keep myself and my information safe. The same cannot be said of Facebook, whose only reliable quality is that their privacy protections and customer care are a constant moving target.

I wasn’t going to write this but then Witcher 2 made a period joke so

I spent my early teenage years on an online forum dedicated to video games. It was predominantly male, and I very rarely felt unwanted or uncomfortable. When I did, it was usually from a new poster, not the friends I had made.

I remember having several conversations about gender and video games. This was one of the areas where I felt least likely to find common ground. However, I never felt my disagreement was met with anything more than further debate. No one called me an unkind name or failed to play games with me afterwards. I’ve stayed in contact with these people — most of them, anyway- – and it’s been interesting to see how we’ve all evolved on this issue as we’ve grown older.

I’m bringing it up in lieu of a Wired.com piece by Patton Oswalt. It’s an old piece, but one I’ve only recently seen, though I think it unintentionally demonstrates an attitude that, when adopted by people who are not as nice or thoughtful as Oswalt, are problematic. I want to be clear that Oswalt is and always has been an ally re: Gamergate and other hurdles. His piece struck me in large part because the strand that runs through it tracks a great deal to the sense of geek culture ownership that, in my experience, spurs a lot of resentment toward allegedly non-traditional gamers.

This article is not about video games and gender — it’s barely even about video games — but it is about nerd culture writ large. I don’t want to put words in Oswalt’s mouth, but I would categorize it as an articulate evaluation of how this sub-culture has become less of a sub-culture at all and more of mainstream experience. I would say it discusses the “democratization” of nerd culture, and how that can have negative impacts on those who spent early years marinating in the minutiae of a medium or lore or whatever else.

I come a bit later to this seen than Oswalt, so perhaps I feel this change less acutely. What struck me most was not the lamentation about this change in experience, but rather the sense of ownership Oswalt seemingly feels over the culture, and I find it difficult to sympathize because it is this ownership that has contributed to toxification of nerd culture, generally, and gaming culture, specifically.

I am not imputing this on Oswalt; I think he is making a fair point but the origin of it has also led to less well stated, sympathetic views. That feeling of ownership, for example, has popped up when we talk about objectification of women in video games, and how women are purportedly ruining gaming. It comes up when we talk about toxic masculinity in gaming, as the gold standard for heroism the traditional male power fantasy, and any attempt to fiddle with that is viewed as an infringement on one’s desired simulation. Its relevance is magnified when you view video games as the bridge between would-be trash talk and “lighthearted” trolling to legitimate threats and online harassment.

The word “entitlement” comes to mind. I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to live in a world where you get to feel as though something as ethereal and limitless as a culture should exist in stasis. Where is the property right in a sub-culture?

Oswalt’s exploration is benign, but for the bad actors out there, the belief that nerd culture is theirs is an animating force behind the hate and vitriol they spew at those outside their preferred norm. It’s the reason why they will grief or troll. I honestly wonder if Oswalt’s daughter, whom he cites towards the end of his piece, would be better off if that ownership remained. More likely, I suspect she would be shut out by her peers in this culture.

I’m not sure I can say that because obviously my experience prior to women being viewed as a threat to nerd culture was a good one; it wasn’t until boys and men in this sub-culture felt challenged that they really owned lashing out. But I also wonder how many women wanted to be part of that culture and felt shut out and turned off — the opportunity cost of narrow cultural participation and ownership.

I personally sign onto the thesis that the newfound large appeal of previously minority pastimes has led to a ton of sub-par creations. It’s becoming clear in comics, video games, and other nerdy hobbies that the possibility of larger scale endeavors like movies are a driving force in the creative process. On the flip side, broad swaths of people clamoring for super heroes and playable characters that look like them is a product of this democratization — Black Panther is a testament to this.

Ultimately, it seems as though the sense of sub-cultural ownership results in, at best, interesting internecine disputes. At worst, as we’re witnessing now, it results in a vituperative rebuff by those who feel as though they are losing something. In the middle is a sense of stagnation. Yes, the trade-off to scaling nerdiness is that we get a lot more shitty works out there and nowhere near proportional debate over small details that we might see at a smaller level. But the pay-off is that we get a lot more creatives feeling emboldened to explore with these newer markets who maybe aren’t the same guys speaking code to each other at a bar table, you know?

An impromptu primer on how to deal with YouTube tosspots.

Listen to Kara Swisher’s interview with Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube). There is a portion regarding rules/codes of conduct/community guidelines. I want to memorialize my thoughts here.

I’m not going to put words in Wojcicki’s mouth, but there’s an interaction where she tries to put contours around what it means to create community guidelines and rules. What she’s talking about, at least as I hear it, is due process. That word is tossed around a lot but it has meaning: namely, that we have a set of rules created before anything happens, process we use to enforce those rules, and we use that process for everybody.

Due process is important because it creates a sense of fair play and justice. This is more important when we’re talking about laws dealing with peoples’ lives and liberties, but it can be just as meaningful in cultivating a sense of community – a community that people buy into and of which they want to be a part.

Businesses that have poor communities often have poor user experiences, so your service better be exclusive or so exceptional that people eat the cost of having a bad experience with others. Tech companies should take note, in my opinion, that people are being offered more alternatives and developing higher expectations in this area, so I wouldn’t hang my hat on riding this out. Get community moderators, folks. /end self-promotion

In law – the “codifying” to which Wojcicki refers – due process can be boiled down to two core components:

  1. Notice – have you told people how they’re supposed to behave before you enforce that standard of behavior?
  2. Hearing – is there an opportunity to make their case to whomever is enforcing that standard of behavior?

When talk about how to enforce a law, we apply the code to a specific set of facts. Let’s make our use case Logan Paul, who I believe is, at best, an irresponsible and juvenile opportunist who needs to grow up and, at worst, an utterly insensitive knuckledragger with no understanding of common decency towards other people.

Nevertheless, he was a user of YouTube and presumably agreed to abide by their Terms of Service (TOS) which outlined an assortment of rules to which he is bound, including a three-strikes rule, which is exactly what it sounds like. Swisher asks (paraphrase): why don’t you just get rid of him? You make the rules, change the rules.

Agreed, but that doesn’t solve our Logan Paul problem, at least not right away. Paul was bound to a set of rules that, in my opinion, exposed a gap in behavioral expectations for the YouTube platform. It behooves YouTube to change the rules, capture this behavior and close the gap.

What it doesn’t mean is that it’s a good idea to retroactively apply this rule. Remember “notice”: you want to tell people before they act what the expectation is. Removing content that is abhorrent without a codified rationale undermines this principle. There are always going to be exceptions such as an imminent and credible threat to a person’s life, or something so grossly vulgar that the better risk calculation is to take it down and eat the cost of dealing with the aftermath. But, these are exceptions, and we don’t make rules based on exceptional behavior. We make rules based on things that are commonplace and easily understood such that most people find it possible to comply with them.

Additionally, we don’t create rules to target a specific person. It would be dubious to create a rule that seems neutral but, in application, only results in the removal of Logan Paul. Sure, it’s Youtube’s prerogative to remove whomever they want, but I’m coming from a place that assumes YouTube wants to (1) create a consistent user experience; (2) brand as a media platform that doesn’t pick favorites, and; (3) provide a cogent rationale to its stakeholders and users such that they don’t come off as frivolous or erratic.

I’m losing steam since I need to prepare for a meeting, but my roadmap would essentially boil down to the following:

  • Do a gap assessment on YouTube’s rules as of the date of the Logan Paul suicide forest controversy. He may have engaged in questionable behavior in the past but this is the clear marker of what crossed the line in such a way as to enter the cultural zeitgeist and create national controversy.
  • Once you’ve discovered the gap, ask yourself if a rule would have captured this. Sometimes the behavior is so extraordinary that you could make a rule but it wouldn’t, in practice, police anything because it was such a one off. Other times it’s behavior that defies codification. This doesn’t preclude policing it, but it does probably mean you need to preserve in your ToS a level of discretion for content moderators (which you should have) and training for those moderators to spot red flags, etc.
  • Amend the ToS as needed. Make Logan Paul and others click “agree” to participate on your not-a-media-service platform.
  • Penalize all users for non-compliance, including Logan Paul should he run afoul after the new ToS have been socialized.

I don’t have much to say about hearings here. This is something that is a lot more important in traditional legal situations. From what I hear, you can appeal after three strikes and so forth and this is, frankly, a marketplace. You have options to go elsewhere even if they’re shitty options, YouTube isn’t a basic human necessity to which you have some inherent claim.

I can spell “Wojcicki” off-hand now. Boom.

A plea to my friends: be political.

I’m done with the posts on my Facebook feed apologizing for being political. I tire of the lamentations about how many political posts there are.

Over the past few weeks – almost three! – we’ve heard so much about the importance of checks and balances. Yes! This is completely true! And let’s not forget to pepper this blog post with some important Founding Father quotes, who bequeathed this concept (enshrined in our form of government) to us. Let’s begin with James Madison in Federalist No. 51:

In order to lay a due foundation for that separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government, which to a certain extent is admitted on all hands to be essential to the preservation of liberty, it is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others.

But I want to note the important point in the following paragraph:

A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

That word: auxiliary. “Auxiliary”  means “additional; supplementary; reserve.” It does not mean “primary, foundational, first, chief, principal.”

Our inheritance is therefore not simply that of checks and balances. it is the intellectual tradition of being an active representative in good government.

Institutions are merely conglomerates of people. Checks and balances are not self-executing. Checks and balances are designed to work alongside a galvanized and informed citizenry. There’s no basis for believing that checks and balances will magic themselves into responsiveness. The only way checks and balances work as an auxiliary is if the primary bulwark against tyranny does its job first, and that bulwark is us: the American people.

Likewise, it requires people to act. Acting can be anything: reading, writing, listening, speaking up, going to a rally, running for office, whatever. I’m writing this as a plea, not an argument. Being apolitical is to remain indifferent to the health and status democracy. To stand aloof to the problems facing government – and there will always be problems – is to either say that you don’t care, or that it doesn’t concern you. If you read this and think “That’s not me; I care,” then the next time a political thought enters your mind, fear of alienating your Facebook feed should not be part of your decision tree.

Our country’s philosophical tenets were fundamentally active. They require movement and participation. They require education, and not just schooling, but the commitment of a literate population to understand and think about the issues surrounding them.

I’m sure I’m a bother on my Facebook page, but I frankly don’t care at this juncture. My goal is not to go out there and change everyone’s mind. My goal is to remain engaged and to surround myself with other engaged people. I want people who associate with me to take this role of citizen seriously and understand the gravity of maintaining the integrity of our republican form of government.

I gave up a long time ago on this kind of language because it sounded to romantic, lofty and idealistic. I’ve since begun embracing it again. Too often I hear people speak in platitudes about American political identity. I really want to emphasize that we should strive to breath meaning back into this foundational concepts. Freedom and liberty are not self-defining any more than our checks and balances are self-executing. It’s going to require this generation of Americans to add contours to those principles. We’ll do this by maintaining our own library of thoughts and democratic experiments, but that’s only possible if can get past this notion that to be political is to be uncouth. Being political is a feature, not a bug, of living in a democracy.

Blogger’s Remorse.

I’ve been quiet the past few weeks. In large part, that’s because of the holidays. I’d be lying, however, if some part of that wasn’t fear of blogger’s remorse. Blogger’s remorse is the retrospective embarrassment of having permanently written down your thoughts somewhere, only to reconsider them or regret them for fear of being wrong or saying something stupid.

Then I listened to the Ezra Klein Show – or maybe it was The Weeds – where Klein contrasts his experience building Vox with his experience as an early blogger. He laments that now, as a more established journalist, the dialogue is more about establishing and potentially proving a thesis (paraphrase) rather than the more exploratory task of musing on a blog. With a blog, he recounts, it felt more like a conversation where a person was free to be wrong, but there was a net intellectual gain in that exploration, so it wasn’t viewed negatively.

I’m trying to bear this in mind as I continue practicing my blogging. The whole point of using this was to memorialize my thoughts. If I come back and change my mind, fine, that’s good, reflection is good. If people who read it think I’m an idiot, they can go fly a kite. Besides, my audience is small, and most of them know me personally enough to actually have a conversation stem from these posts, and I’d consider that a pretty beneficial thing.