The Law of the Twitter Storm

December 12, 2022

Our fearless leader (Stephen E Arnold) has captured several laws of information. An article at Variety illustrates one we call the Twitter Storm, which states that information builds momentum. “‘Twitter Files’ Touted by Musk Reveal How Execs Debated Decision to Block NY Post Account Over Hunter Biden Articles.” In accordance with the Twitter Storm law, we expect the consequences of the leaked documents, the visibility the story has, and the follow-on consequences to be impactful. Information flow works like the forces which created the Grand Canyon.

Reporter Todd Spangler summarizes the 2020 kerfuffle over Twitter’s decision to block the Post’s account. See the write-up to learn or refresh those details. The commotion was recently re-fluffed by investigative reporter Matt Taibbi and by the platform’s new monarch, Elon Musk, who promptly fired the executives responsible for blocking the Post. We learn:

“The new disclosures, touted as ‘The Twitter Files,’ were posted in a lengthy Twitter thread by investigative reporter and author Matt Taibbi (and retweeted by Musk). It’s based on ‘thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter,’ according to Taibbi — shared with him, it would appear, with the blessing of Musk, the conservative tech mogul who is the world’s richest person.

Taibbi, in a note about ‘The Twitter Files’ on his Substack page, said that ‘in exchange for the opportunity to cover a unique and explosive story, I had to agree to certain conditions.’ Taibbi did not disclose what those conditions are.”

One factor at play here is a perception of left-wing bias behind the original decision. Spangler continues:

“Musk, a self-described ‘free-speech absolutist,’ has complained that in the past Twitter censored conservatives and that under his ownership Twitter would adhere to strict principles of ‘free speech’ — a stance that critics have feared will lead to an increase of misinformation and hate speech on the platform.”

Indeed, that is a big concern. But is Musk as committed to free speech as he claims? We notice Twitter is allegedly censoring content from Mastodon. As users flee the new Twitter, many are turning to that decentralized platform instead. According to TechCrunch, Mastodon’s active user base increased by more than fivefold within days of Musk’s takeover. But surely that has nothing to do with the alleged censorship, right?

Cynthia Murrell, December 12, 2022

TikTok: Back in the Surveillance Spotlight?

December 6, 2022

In western countries, especially the United States, TikTok is a platform showcasing the worst of its citizens. It also encourages poor behavior due to mob mentality/crowd psychology. Did you know that China owns TikTok and uses it to collect data on US citizens? It is probably manipulating algorithms to show Americans the worst of the worst as well. The FBI is finally catching on that TikTok is not a benign social media platform, but it is probably too little too late.

CNBC wrote that, “FBI Is ‘Extremely Concerned’ About China’s Influence Through TikTok On US Users.” FBI Director Christopher Wray warned US lawmakers about the potential threat TikTok poses:

“ ‘We do have national security concerns at least from the FBI’s end about TikTok,’ Wray told members of the House Homeland Security Committee in a hearing about worldwide threats. ‘They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users. Or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose. Or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.’”

TikTok’s parent company ByteDance denies any bad actions and condemns anyone who claims TikTok is anything more than a short video-sharing platform. The Hill has a similar take on the same story “FBI Head: China Has ‘Stolen More’ US Data ‘Than Every Other Nation Combined’” and uses the same quote from Wray but includes an additional one:

“There are still unresolved questions about data sharing between Chinese companies and the government in Beijing, said Wray, adding that ‘there’s a number of concerns there as to what is actually happening and actually being done.’”

What is interesting about China is that it is one of the world’s oldest countries and its cultural mentality is different from than the West. China could be patiently playing the long game to subvert the US government with the help of its citizens. How? They systemically use TikTok to condition Americans’ attention spans to be shorter and influence bad behavior.

Why is the FBI only concerned now?

Whitney Grace, December 6, 2022

A Trifecta for Meta, TikTok, and Twitter in Kenya

November 23, 2022

Once again, social media companies show their disdain for local laws and information integrity. Rest of World reports, “Facebook and Instagram Ran Ads Violating Kenyan Election Law, New Report Reveals.” Furthermore, according to the Mozilla Foundation report, Meta, Twitter, and TikTok failed to moderate harmful posts amid the Kenyan general election in August. Journalist Andrew Deck writes:

“Kenyan law states political candidates cannot campaign in the 48 hours before an election day. Candidates for both major political parties did just that, with paid promotions on Facebook and Instagram, which are both owned by Meta. Meta itself requires advertisers to abide by these blackout periods. Some ads from the opposition Azimio la Umoja party reached as many as 50,000 impressions and one gubernatorial candidate alone ran some 17 violating ads. … The porousness of moderation filters during this time contributed to what [Mozilla researcher Odanga Madung] calls a ‘post-election twilight zone,’ the report said. Despite public commitments to ramp up moderation resources before Kenyans headed to the polls, Meta, Twitter, and TikTok all saw breaches in their moderation systems, according to the report. In the days after the polls closed on August 9, election rumors on social media were exacerbated by the release of 43,000 polling station results publicly by the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Political parties and media companies released their own tallies of these votes, leading to conflicting declarations of the winner. Breaches included the circulation of misleading electoral tallies by opposing political parties and conspiracy theories about election fraud.”

What an interesting matter. See the article for more election chicanery that made it unchallenged onto social media. Meta, TikTok, and Twitter all insist they did their best to uphold regulations and label misinformation. Madung, however, believes they did not adequately test their procedures within Kenya. That seems like a sound conclusion. Just how long will these companies’ negligence contribute to election turmoil in countries around the globe?

Cynthia Murrell, November 23, 2022

OSINT: HandleFinder

November 22, 2022

If you are looking for a way to identify a user “handle” on various social networks, you may want to take a look at HandleFinder. The service appears to be offered without a fee. The developer does provide a “Buy Me a Coffee” link, so you can support the service. The service accepts a user name. We used our favorite ageing teen screen name ibabyrainbow or babyrainbow on some lower profile services. HandleFinder returned 31 results on our first query. (We ran the query a second time, and the system returned 30 results. We found this interesting.)

The services scanned included Patreon, TikTok, and YouTube, among others. The service did not scan the StreamGun video on demand service or NewRecs.

In order to examine the results, one clicks on service name which is underlined. Note that once one clicks the link, the result set is lost. We found that the link should be opened in a separate tab or window to eliminate the need to rerun the query after after each click. That’s how one of my team discovered the count variance.

When there is no result, the link in HandleFinder does not make this evident. Links to ibabyrainbow on Instagram returned “Page not found.” The result for returned the page of links, which means more clicking.

If one is interested in chasing down social media handles, you may want to check out this service. It is promising and hopefully will be refined.

Stephen E Arnold, November 22, 2022

LinkedIn Helps Users Spot Fake Accounts it Lets Slip Through

November 11, 2022

Fake LinkedIn accounts are a fact of life. One might wonder how it is a professional social media site does not require member verification. It seems like a must have, but then LinkedIn is a Microsoft property after all. Now the site is making at least a show of doing something about the issue. No, not increasing efforts to prevent or remove fake profiles; don’t be silly. This is a case of user beware. According to CNN, “LinkedIn Knows There Are Fake Accounts on Its Site. Now It Wants to Help Users Spot Them.” Reporter Clare Duffy writes:

“LinkedIn is rolling out to some users the opportunity to verify their profile using a work email address or phone number. That verification will be incorporated into a new, ‘About this Profile’ section that will also show when a profile was created and last updated, to give users additional context about an account they may be considering connecting with. If an account was created very recently and has other potential red flags, such as an unusual work history, it could be a sign that users should proceed with caution when interacting with it. The verification option will be available to a limited number of companies at first, but will become more widely available over time, and the ‘About this Profile’ section will roll out globally in the coming weeks, according to the company. The platform will also begin alerting users if a message they have received seems suspicious — such as those that invite the recipient to continue the conversation on another platform including WhatsApp (a common move in crypto currency-related scams) or those that ask for personal information.”

We are told detecting and removing bots or fake accounts is just too tricky and subjective to expect LinkedIn to get it right. It is funny how “empowering users” often translates to “passing the buck.” So for those who must use LinkedIn, just remember it is up to you to verify others are who they say they are.

Cynthia Murrell, November 11, 2022

The Google: Indexing and Discriminating Are Expensive. So Get Bigger Already

November 9, 2022

It’s Wednesday, November 9, 2022, only a few days until I hit 78. Guess what? Amidst the news of crypto currency vaporization, hand wringing over the adult decisions forced on high school science club members at Facebook and Twitter, and the weirdness about voting — there’s a quite important item of information. This particular datum is likely to be washed away in the flood of digital data about other developments.

What is this gem?

An individual has discovered that the Google is not indexing some Mastodon servers. You can read the story in a Mastodon post at this link. Don’t worry. The page will resolve without trying to figure out how to make Mastodon stomp around in the way you want it to. The link to you is Stephen Brennan.

The item is that Google does not index every Mastodon server. The Google, according to Mr. Brennan:

has decided that since my Mastodon server is visually similar to other Mastodon servers (hint, it’s supposed to be) that it’s an unsafe forgery? Ugh. Now I get to wait for a what will likely be a long manual review cycle, while all the other people using the site see this deceptive, scary banner.

So what?

Mr. Brennan notes:

Seems like El Goog has no problem flagging me in an instant, but can’t cleanup their mistakes quickly.

A few hours later Mr. Brennan reports:

However, the Search Console still insists I have security problems, and the “transparency report” here agrees, though it classifies my threat level as Yellow (it was Red before).

Is the problem resolved? Sort of. Mr. Brennan has concluded:

… maybe I need to start backing up my Google data. I could see their stellar AI/moderation screwing me over, I’ve heard of it before.

Why do I think this single post and thread is important? Four reasons:

  1. The incident underscores how an individual perceives Google as “the Internet.” Despite the use of a decentralized, distributed system. The mind set of some Mastodon users is that Google is the be-all and end-all. It’s not, of course. But if people forget that there are other quite useful ways of finding information, the desire to please, think, and depend on Google becomes the one true way. Outfits like don’t have much of a chance of getting traction with those in the Google datasphere.
  2. Google operates on a close-enough-for-horseshoes or good-enough approach. The objective is to sell ads. This means that big is good. The Good Principle doesn’t do a great job of indexing Twitter posts, but Twitter is bigger than Mastodon in terms of eye balls. Therefore, it is a consequence of good-enough methods to shove small and low-traffic content output into a area surrounded by Google’s police tape.  Maybe Google wants Mastodon users behind its police tape? Maybe Google does not care today but will if and when Mastodon gets bigger? Plus some Google advertisers may want to reach those reading search results citing Mastodon? Maybe? If so, Mastodon servers will become important to the Google for revenue, not content.
  3. Google does not index “the world’s information.” The system indexes some information, ideally information that will attract users. In my opinion, the once naive company allegedly wanted to achieve the world’s information. Mr. Page and I were on a panel about Web search as I recall. My team and I had sold to CMGI some technology which was incorporated into Lycos. That’s why I was on the panel. Mr. Page rolled out the notion of an “index to the world’s information.” I pointed out that indexing rapidly-expanding content and the capturing of content changes to previously indexed content would be increasingly expensive. The costs would be high and quite hard to control without reducing the scope, frequency, and depth of the crawls. But Mr. Page’s big idea excited people. My mundane financial and technical truths were of zero interest to Mr. Page and most in the audience. And today? Google’s management team has to work overtime to try to contain the costs of indexing near-real time flows of digital information. The expense of maintaining and reindexing backfiles is easier to control. Just reduce the scope of sites indexed, the depth of each crawl, the frequency certain sites are reindexed, and decrease how much content old content is displayed. If no one looks at these data, why spend money on it? Google is not Mother Theresa and certainly not the Andrew Carnegie library initiative. Mr. Brennan brushed against an automated method that appears to say, “The small is irrelevant controls because advertisers want to advertise where the eyeballs are.”
  4. Google exists for two reasons: First, to generate advertising revenue. Why? None of its new ventures have been able to deliver advertising-equivalent revenue. But cash must flow and grow or the Google stumbles. Google is still what a Microsoftie called a “one-trick pony” years ago. The one-trick pony is the star of the Google circus. Performing Mastodons are not in the tent. Second, Google wants very much to dominate cloud computing, off-the-shelf machine learning, and cyber security. This means that  the performing Mastodons have to do something that gets the GOOG’s attention.

Net net: I find it interesting to find examples of those younger than I discovering the precise nature of Google. Many of these individuals know only Google. I find that sad and somewhat frightening, perhaps more troubling than Mr. Putin’s nuclear bomb talk. Mr. Putin can be seen and heard. Google controls its datasphere. Like goldfish in a bowl, it is tough to understand the world containing that bowl and its inhabitants.

Stephen E Arnold, November 9, 2022

What Will the Twitter Dependent Do Now?

November 7, 2022

Here’s a question comparable to Roger Penrose’s, Michio Kaku’s, and Sabine Hossenfelder’s discussion of the multiverse. (One would think that the Institute of Art and Ideas could figure out sound, but that puts high-flying discussions in a context, doesn’t it?)

What will the Twitter dependent do now?

Since I am not Twitter dependent nor Twitter curious (twi-curious, perhaps?), I find the artifacts of Muskism interesting to examine. Let’s take one example; specifically, “Twitter, Cut in Half.” Yikes, castration by email! Not quite like the real thing, but for some, the imagery of chopping off the essence of the tweeter thing is psychologically disturbing.

Consider this statement:

After the layoffs, we asked some of the employees who had been cut what they made of the process. They told us that they had been struck by the cruelty: of ordering people to work around the clock for a week, never speaking to them, then firing them in the middle of the night, no matter what it might mean for an employee’s pregnancy or work visa or basic emotional state. More than anything they were struck by the fact that the world’s richest man, who seems to revel in attention on the platform they had made for him, had not once deigned to speak to them.


Knife cutting a quite vulnerable finger as collateral damage to major carrot chopping. Image by

Cruelty. Interesting word. Perhaps it reflects on the author who sees the free amplifier of his thoughts ripped from his warm fingers? The word cut keeps the metaphor consistent: Cutting the cord, cutting the umbilical, and cutting the unmentionables. Ouch! No wonder some babies scream when slicing and cleaving ensue. Ouch ouch.

Then the law:

whether they were laid off or not, several employees we’ve spoken to say they are hiring attorneys. They anticipate difficulties getting their full severance payments, among other issues. Tensions are running high.

The flocking of the legal eagles will cut off the bright white light of twitterdom. The shadows flicker awaiting the legal LEDs to shine and light the path to justice in free and easy short messages to one’s followers. Yes, the law versus the Elon.

So what’s left of the Fail Whale’s short messaging system and its functions designed to make “real” information available on a wide range of subjects? The write up reports:

It was grim. It was also, in any number of ways, pointless: there had been no reason to do any of this, to do it this way, to trample so carelessly over the lives and livelihoods of so many people.

Was it pointless? I am hopeful that Twitter goes away. The alternatives could spit out a comparable outfit. Time will reveal if those who must tweet will find another easy, cheap way to promote specific ideas, build a rock star like following, and provide a stage for performers who do more than tell jokes and chirp.

Several observations:

  1. A scramble for other ways to find, build, and keep a loyal following is underway. Will it be the China-linked TikTok? Will it be the gamer-centric Discord? Will it be a ghost web service following the Telegram model?
  2. Fear is perched on the shoulder of the Twitter dependent celebrity. What worked for Kim has worked for less well known “stars.” Those stars may wonder how the Elon volcano could ruin more of their digital constructs.
  3. Fame chasers find that the information highway now offers smaller, less well traveled digital paths? Forget the two roads in the datasphere. The choices are difficult, time consuming to master, and may lead to dead ends or crashes on the information highway’s collector lanes.

Net net: Change is afoot. Just watch out for smart automobiles with some Elon inside.

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2022

The Tweeter: Where Are the Tweeter Addicts Going?

November 3, 2022

With Instagram and TikTok becoming the go to source of news, what is Twitter doing to cope with these click magnets? The answer is, “Stay tuned.” In theory the sage of the Twitter thing will end soon. In the meantime, let’s consider the implications of “Exclusive: Twitter Is Losing Its Most Active Users, Internal Documents Show.” The story comes from a trusted news source (what other type of real news outfit is there?). I noted this statement in the write up:

Twitter is struggling to keep its most active users – who are vital to the business – engaged…

The write up points out:

“heavy tweeters” account for less than 10% of monthly overall users but generate 90% of all tweets and half of global revenue. Heavy tweeters have been in “absolute decline” since the pandemic began, a Twitter researcher wrote in an internal document titled “Where did the Tweeters Go?”

The story has a number of interesting factoids; for example:

  • “adult content constitutes 13% of Twitter”
  • “English-speaking users were also increasingly interested in crypto currencies …But interest in the topic has declined since the crypto price crash”
  • “Twitter is also losing a “devastating” percentage of heavy users who are interested in fashion or celebrities such as the Kardashian family.”

What about the Silicon Valley type journalists who tweet to fame and fortune? What about the text outputting Fiverr and software content creators? What about the search engine optimization wizards who do the multiple post approach to visibility?

One of the Arnold Laws of Online is that users dissipate. What this means is that a big service has magnetism. Then the magnetism weakens. The users drift away looking for another magnetic point.

The new magnetic points are:

  • Short form video services
  • Discussion groups which can be Reddit-style on the clear Web and the Dark Web. Think Mastodon and Discord.
  • Emergent super apps like Telegram-type services and specialized services hosted by “ghost” ISPs. (A selected list is available for a modest fee. Write benkent2020 at yahoo dot com if you are interested in something few are tracking.)

The original magnet does not lose its potency quickly. But once those users begin to drift off, the original attractor decays.

How similar is this to radioactive decay? It is not just similar; it is weirdly close.

Stephen E Arnold, November 3, 2022

Measuring How Badly Social Media Amplifies Misinformation

October 26, 2022

In its ongoing examination of misinformation online, the New York Times tells us about the Integrity Institute‘s quest to measure just how much social media contributes to the problem in, “How Social Media Amplifies Misinformation More than Information.” Reporter Steven Lee Meyers writes:

“It is well known that social media amplifies misinformation and other harmful content. The Integrity Institute, an advocacy group, is now trying to measure exactly how much — and on Thursday [October 13] it began publishing results that it plans to update each week through the midterm elections on Nov. 8. The institute’s initial report, posted online, found that a ‘well-crafted lie’ will get more engagements than typical, truthful content and that some features of social media sites and their algorithms contribute to the spread of misinformation.”

In is ongoing investigation, the researchers compare the circulation of posts flagged as false by the International Fact-Checking Network to that of other posts from the same accounts. We learn:

“Twitter, the analysis showed, has what the institute called the great misinformation amplification factor, in large part because of its feature allowing people to share, or ‘retweet,’ posts easily. It was followed by TikTok, the Chinese-owned video site, which uses machine-learning models to predict engagement and make recommendations to users. … Facebook, according to the sample that the institute has studied so

far, had the most instances of misinformation but amplified such claims to a lesser degree, in part because sharing posts requires more steps. But some of its newer features are more prone to amplify misinformation, the institute found.”

Facebook‘s video content spread lies faster than the rest of the platform, we learn, because its features lean more heavily on recommendation algorithms. Instagram showed the lowest amplification rate, while the team did not yet have enough data on YouTube to draw a conclusion. It will be interesting to see how these amplifications do or do not change as the midterms approach. The Integrity Institute shares its findings here.

Cynthia Murrell, October 26, 2022

Learning Is Supposed to Be Easy. Says Who?

October 26, 2022

I am not sure what a GenZ is. I do know that if I provide cash and change for a bill at a drug store or local grocery store, the person running the cash register looks like a deer in headlights. I have a premonition that if I had my Digital Infrared Thermometer, I could watch the person’s temperature rise. Many of these young people struggle to make change. My wife had a $0.50 cent piece and gave it to the cashier at the garden center along with some bills. The GenZ or GenX or whatever young person called the manager and asked, “What is this coin?”

I read “ Survey Shows 87 Percent of College Students Think Classes Are Too Difficult, But Most Fail to Study Regularly.” I know little about the sponsor of the research, the sampling methodology, or the statistical procedures used to calculate the data. Caution is advised when “real news” trots out data. Let’s assume that the information is close enough for horseshoes. After all, this is the statistical yardstick for mathematical excellence in use at synthetic data companies, Google-type outfits, and many artificial intelligence experts hot for cheap training data. Yep, close enough is good enough. I should create a T shit with this silkscreened on the front. But that’s work, which I don’t do.

The findings reported in the article include some gems which appear to bolster my perception that quite a few GenZ etc. cohort members are not particularly skilled in some facets of information manipulation. I would wager that their TikTok skills are excellent. Other knowledge based functions may lag. Let’s look at these numbers:

65 percent of respondents say they put a lot of effort into their studies. However, research findings also show that one-third of students who claim to put a lot of effort into their schoolwork spend less than 5 hours a week studying.

This is the academic equivalent of a young MBAs saying, “I will have the two pager ready tomorrow morning.” The perception of task completion is sufficient for these young millionaires to be. Doing the work is irrelevant because the individual thinks the work will be done. When reminded, the excuses fly. I want to remind you that some high-tech companies trot out the well worn “the dog ate my homework” excuse when testifying.

And this finding:

Thirty-one percent of respondents spend 1-5 hours, and 37 percent spend 6-10 hours studying for classes each week. Comparatively, 8 percent of students spend 15-20 hours, and 5 percent spend more than 20 hours studying.

I have been working on Hopf fibrations for a couple of years. Sorry, I am not at the finish line yet. Those in the sample compute studying with a few hours in a week. Nope, that time commitment is plotted on flawed timeline, not the real world timeline for learning and becoming proficient in a subject.

I loved this finding:

Twenty-eight percent of students have asked a professor to change their grade, while 31 percent admit they cheated to get better grades. Almost 50 percent of college students believe a pass or fail system should replace the current academic grading system.


Net net: No wonder young people struggle with making change and thinking clearly. Bring back the dinobabies even though there are some dull normals in that set of cohorts as well. But when one learns by watching TikToks what can one expect in the currency recognition department? Answer: Not much.

Stephen E Arnold, October 26, 2022

« Previous PageNext Page »

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta