Bob and the Internet

This is the story of Bob: Bob is active in her chosen field, which exposes her to some wider audience. As Bob does things that people value, she has a podium on which to speak and she uses it to some effect.

Alas, Bob has a problem. For some reason, some folks don’t like her. Where she posts, there are often arguments, accusations of some kind, to the point where people publicly get into (verbal) fights about the perceived innocence or guilt of Bob and others.

Bob of course defends herself, and friends of hers join in, calling those out who deal in reprehensible behaviour. She makes a convincing case that she is the victim here, and gets increasingly vocal about it over time.

Eventually, friends become enemies, communities splinter and sometimes even the police needs to get involved when some people cross lines into doxxing, actual death threats or worse.

Poor Bob, you probably think.

But maybe we should take a dispassionate look at Bob. We may find that sometimes, she is either completely on the defence. Mostly though, Bob is doing full-on attacks on those who have slighted her.

For her, people are apparently either useful, background noise or, well, enemies. And once you are her enemy, or are not immediately distancing yourself from those enemies, Bob will remember you forever.

Occasionally, Bob will admit to err on factual things, but she certainly is always right in her assessment of interpersonal relations. And yes, she is the undoubtedly the victim here, because, have you seen what Steve did?

If a situation escalates, it is never Bobs fault. If people cry foul, they are harassers. If they want to have no part of the drama, they are enablers. If someone on her side oversteps some line, it is their fault, certainly not Bobs for inciting them.

Still poor Bob?

Look up the vocabulary that describes an Abuser. You will find terms like Gaslighting. Victim Playing, DARVO, Stalking, Belittling, Controlling who is allowed to talk with whom.. If you’re online, you will also find all the rhetoric tricks too: Hiding behind technicalities, ad hominem attacks, Whataboutism and so on.

Bob portrays all the quality of a narcissistic, highly abusive person.

There are many Bobs online, and I am often not sure if they are simply broken persons or just plain evil.

Before I get to know a Bob, I usually assume that she simply has problems parsing emotions through text, that I didn’t make my point or argument clear enough. Because I have that problem myself: Often enough, I don’t know how the other person wanted me to perceive them, what they really wanted to say.

Online interactions are often fleeting or brief. That means that I miss a half-sentence or misread things. English isn’t my first language, and often enough, I converse with people who are also non native english speakers. So I allow for a wide range of misinterpretations, attribute to human error what could also be malice.

Sadly enough, that plays right into Bobs hand, reinforcing the notion that she is blameless, and everyone else is wrong. Bob sits secure in her perfect perch, and laps up the attention she receives, slowly ruining the online life of others.

Don’t give in to the Bobs. Resist that. Stop interacting with them, even when they bait you to it. It is hard. It can be very painful. And you do not have to stay in an online place where a Bob resides. We don’t owe a Bob anything at all.

But we do owe the community we want to live in. Identify the Bobs in there and then make it clear that they need to demonstrate a willingness and effort to be civil, to be polite and to be mindful of how others perceive their voice – or they will be shunned and shut out.

Do not ask Alice to “make up with Bob, for the sake of the community”. This will allow Bob to further mess with Alice. In the end, Alice will have only the option of more suffering from Bob, or to leave the community that continues to allow Bobs presence.

And above all: Don’t give any attention to the Bobs. It’s what they want, what feeds their ego. It should of course be positive attention, but they don’t actually care if it is negative, so long as it keeps their ego fed.

So don’t.

Identify the Bobs. Explain them the rules. And shun them (and only them) when it becomes apparent that they won’t change.

I am on Mastodon now

Those who know me, are aware that I am some sort of Hipster. As such, I of course have to be ahead of all the latest trends and topics de jour. In social media, that means that I of course need to have a Mastodon handle. In case you haven’t heard of Mastodon, here’s a short summary:

  • Mastodon is a microblogging service based on GNU-Social
  • Everyone can set up their own instance and then federate with other instances to create a global network
  • Identities are only unique within their instance. Same as email really, where you can have the same name on several domains.

So, what makes this different than, say, Diaspora and similar things? For once, it already looks much more polished than Diaspora. And then it also manages to overcome quite a lot of the shortcomings that are inherent to the Twitter-clones:

  • There is an expanded limit of 500 characters for each „toot“. That is wordy enough for me.
  • There are two extra timelines that you can see – everyone on the same Instance and everyone else who is somehow connected to the people in your instance. That ensures that you see things happening and get connected to folks right from the start.
  • The federation system gets rid of the pesky free-speech vs moderation clash. More on that later.

So, what is it with the three timelines and the federation system? The basic setup is this: You have a home timeline, which shows everything from those folks you actively follow. You can follow users on your own instance, as well as those who are on any instance that is federated with the one you’re on. That basically means everyone, unless their instance is viewed as so toxic and bad that your admin has decided to get rid of them altogether. In effect, the Home timeline is what you’re used from all the other social networks.

On top of that, you have a „Local“ timeline. That list shows all the activity from everyone who is a user on the same instance as you. This immediately shows one reason why it is important to choose the correct instance to have your account in: If the instance you join is full of gaming nerds, you will have a very different experience than if it would be full of artists or political activists.

The third timeline is the Federated one. Here you basically see everyone who isn’t local or in your home stream, but somehow connected to one of those people. Friends of a friend so to speak. The exact rules are a bit more complicated, but that is the gist of it.

I really cannot stress how useful I found these extra two timelines. While I have no idea how many people are on the same instance as I am (octodon.local, chosen because the about page is simply spot on to my worldview.),  it apparently is exactly the right size: The local stream is busy, but not too busy. And as a result, people take the time to chime into conversations there and answer open questions. On other social networks, those questions would probably either not be seen, or drowned in the sea of everything else.

Now, with every new tech project, there are of course immediate philosophical differences: One of them is the use of FollowerBots. Those are bits of software that simply follow every person on a different instance that they learn of, making sure that the activity of those people becomes visible in the instance of that bot. As an end result, the bots aim to change the behaviour of that Federated timeline from showing friends-of-friends only to showing everyone. Personally, I am not yet sure if I like this. The upside is that if this bothers you, you can for example join an instance that blocks those bots.

The other issue seems to revolve around censorship and free speech. My own stance is that you can say what you want, but not everyone is required to listen to you. And the federation system of Mastodon allows for exactly this: Everyone can set up their own instance, and everyone can give being heard a good shot. But if you spout stuff that upsets people, they can make sure that you don’t show up in their timeline.

(You should be aware though, that the whole Mastodon concept is not very privacy-oriented. There are lots of loopholes and pitfalls, and server admins can usually read everything on their instance if they absolutely want to.)

Still, the whole Federation system allows for a wide variety of needs on the whole free-speech-vs-censorship spectrum. And that allowance in turn fosters a discussion about these very things, with the results of that discussion ending up in the code and settings of the various instances. (keep in mind that the whole thing is open source after all!)

I think I’ll use Mastodon for most of my daily status update needs for a week or so now, to see where I end up with this. See the results here:

Das kannste schon so machen…

shirt Zwei rollenspielspezifische Diskussionen laufen derzeit durch meine Timeline. Zum einen zur X-Card, zum anderen die Sache mit Romantik, Liebe & Sex und, daran angehangen, die zur Sprache.

Das T-Shirt an der rechten Seite dieses Textes fasst die Aussage der Diskussionsbeiträge quer über alles meiner Ansicht schön zusammen. Und genau das nervt mich daran.

Es sollte doch so langsam Konsens geben, dass es nicht „die eine korrekte“ Art von Rollenspiel gibt. Da gibt es Hilfsmittel, die für die einen ganz knorke sind, und für andere als komplett sinnbefreit angesehen werden. (Ich werde z.B. nie die Sache mit den Dicetowern nachvollziehen können.) Und das ist völlig in Ordnung. Muss ja nicht jeder das gleiche mögen, wäre ja auch langweilig.

Was mich gewaltig stört ist die Tatsache, dass das abweichende Ideen häufig genug entweder als Ausdruck einer Charakterschwäche angesehen oder einfach als grundlegend albern abgelehnt werden. Eine Aussage wie „Ich bin erwachsen und reif, und brauche das nicht“ zielt eben nicht auf einen selber, sondern auf diejenigen, die das anders sehen.

Ich bin ein großer Freund von Zaks Beiträgen. Zak schreibt sehr polemisch, aber eines macht er nie: Behaupten, dass etwas die Falsche Art von Spaß [tm] sei. Er zeigt auf, wenn jemand sich selbst widerspricht, und nennt die Leute Dummköpfe, die Meinungen als Tatsachenbehauptungen verkaufen wollen.

Und diese Tatsachenbehauptungskiste ist genau das, was in den oben genannten Diskussionen viel zu häufig passiert: „Das kannste schon so machen, aber dann isses halt Kacke.“

Statt: „dann isses halt nicht mein Ding.“

Davon ab: Ich persönlich spiele übrigens ohne X-Karten, will aber niemanden absprechen, mit diesen zu spielen. Und wenn die jemand zum Spieltisch mitbringt, dann stehe ich auch nicht sofort auf. Generell gilt: Nur weil jemand irgend etwas an den Spieltisch bringt, ist das noch lange kein Idiot. Die Frage ist, was damit und daraus gemacht wird, und wie sich die Person dabei mir gegenüber verhält.

(Übrigens: „Falsch“ Rollenzuspielen ist einfach nur eine andere Sorte von Spaß zu bevorzugen. Andere Leute pauschal abzuurteilen und auszugrenzen, oder über Versuche inklusiv zu sein einfach drüberzutrampeln (Stichwort: „Das hammer schon imma so jemacht!“) – das ist meiner Ansicht nach tatsächlich einfach nur Kacke.

That OKCupid datascrape…

If you have an OKCupid profile, you might want to

  1. check if your username appears in this list
  2. change your profilename, and maybe even delete the pictures from it.

Why? Because some ethically challenged and unresponsible searcher named Emil Kirkegaard just released profile data on 70,000 OkCupid users without permission. What is in that list? According to, there are:

user names, ages, gender, religion, and personality traits, as well as answers to the personal questions the site asks to help match potential mates.


Why is this problematic? Personally, I’m not affected. My username isn’t in that list, and even if it were, I wouldn’t be overly concerned: I’m a straight white dude with few secrets, and those that I have wouldn’t threaten my life, my job or my relationship. But I know people who are actually on that list, and who are less than thrilled about the whole thing. Keep in mind that some folks have stalkers, who now have an easily searchable database. And some need to compartmentalize their lives, maybe because of jobs or family or whatever.

And yes, the OKCupid data was sort of semi-public. But it wasn’t in a handy freely searchable database, and it was hard to correlate that data with other sources. Now it may be much easier, creating data leaks and consequences no one could have reckoned with.

But mostly, I cannot understand how a researcher, someone who is supposed to know about data, data correllation and especially about the ethics of this science, how such a person can just willy-nilly publish such intimate data without the express consent of the people involved.

I really hope that the name Emil O. Kirkegaard really gets burned within his scientific community and that anyone who ever considers giving him a grant or research position is aware of this despicable and irresponsible behaviour. Also I hope that OKCupid will sue his ass off.

(alas, as far as I can see, they haven’t put out any message to their users, alerting them of this scraped dataset. Pity.)