Twitch Streaming and Human Connection

I’m a little behind the times, and so I’ve only really just figured out what Twitch is. I’ve always known it to be a streaming platform for gamers, but I’ve never really had a reason to tune in to anyone’s channel.

This autumn has seen the release of many games that have peaked my interest, and so YouTube clips eventually lead me to streams from dedicated full-time gamers. Most are working for tips, as any live performer would, with the more established streamers making a living from subscribers (patrons) and sponsorships.

I remember Twitch being criticised last year for allowing non-gaming streamers on the website, largely because this came in the form of “hot girls” in low-cut tops talking to their camera for tips. It was thought that these streams would take audiences away from the gaming streamers, but the website appears to be as popular as ever.

These non-gaming streams spawned sub-genres such as Music & Arts, Just Talking and Game Shows. Also ASMR — Gently crafted soundscapes to help you relax and sleep.

As someone who dabbled with live streaming around ten years ago, I completely understand the appeal of performing and reaching out to an audience.

Back then it was basic webcams and cheap USB microphones on a now-defunct platform called Blog TV. I never tried to make any extra pocket money from it, but my friends and I put together a 48-hour long livestream to raise money for charity.

Even though huge pockets of that were broadcast were unplanned, I remember having so much fun scheduling segments from various artists, performers and guests — All talented friends who, like me, just wanted to be noticed for a moment whilst doing something to help others.

We switched between webcams to different areas of my attic bedroom that had been converted into an amateur studio. It felt like a reverse Wayne’s World for the digital age.

Life happened, as it always does, and so I stopped streaming — But it was fun while it lasted.

During our two-day livestream we were featured on the front page and peaked at around five-hundred viewers, which is a drop in the online ocean compared to the number of viewers that top Twitch streamers get nowadays.

As I type these words, the two most watched channels in the world right now have 50,000 and 25,000 viewers each. They’re playing the games Fortnite and a little game you may have heard of, called Chess.

The most beautiful thing about this is that twice as many people are watching masters play chess than are watching a Fortnite streamer. I guess you can’t beat the classics.

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The overall Twitch community doesn’t seem to be too healthy, but like all digital social circles it’s hard to pin-down exactly who the average Twitch user is. Some streamers will have an obscene chat, filled with memes and bigotry — Whereas others will have a positive chat, filled with memes and love.

So I guess memes are probably the common trend, and you cultivate a community that reflects your personality.

I find it difficult to keep the chat open whenever I’m watching a stream, because it’s usually a barrage of nonsensical noise, with people looking to connect to the host.

That’s the really interesting thing about live-streaming — The connections people are looking to make.

In the digital age we’re all just looking to connect to others. Every time we post a Tweet, photo or update, we’re asking for people to notice us. We want to be recognised, seen and heard in an increasingly loud world.

As much as I keep this daily blog for personal reasons, I can’t deny that my heart is warmed whenever someone likes a post or comments on some nonsense I’ve written.

Social media induced endorphins man; The real drug that’ll get you.

Streaming though, particularly on Twitch, is a raw and extreme version of that connection. Sure you can glam yourself up, change how you behave and even adopt a persona, but ultimately you’re putting more of yourself out there for the world to see than in, say, a photo on Instagram.

You’re live, you’re unfiltered and you’re asking to be noticed.

I think it takes a dash of ego to be a successful streamer — To plug away for so long in order to gain an audience. But I also think that bravery is a crucial trait, just because of how exposed you leave yourself to a faceless crowd.

I’ve seen explicit and inappropriate things in Twitch chats, largely directed at female streamers who’re just trying to play a video game and, presumably, not looking for men to describe how they would get into her pants.

But I’ve also seen the uplifting — The harmless communities formed around a shared interest and personality, the stories told to each other, and the games played together.

The most interesting part of this platform, for me, is the new streamers. The people who’re playing to an audience of less than five, but are still trying just as hard to gain a following.

This next bit is going to sound a little creepy, but imagine me approaching this with Louis Theroux levels of inquisitiveness and it’ll seem a little better.

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I’ve found myself scrolling to the least-viewed streams of a game and tuning in. In some cases I’m the only viewer, and the person is just sat there, playing their game. Then, after a few moments they notice they have someone watching (me), and so they begin a performance.

They start to commentate themselves, and make a few forced jokes. You watch them transition from someone practicing a routine at home, to performing that same routine on a stage, as they shift from one version of themselves to another.

It’s fascinating to watch, but I don’t linger for too long, as the interaction is all one-sided. They talk into a microphone and I watch, both of us gaining some kind of distant human connection for a moment before parting ways for good.

As I said, a little creepy, but it’s so intriguing to witness a live version of someone looking to fill that basic human need of connection. And not only that, but at its very root.

Watching someone stream to an audience of two is like noticing that someone in the room wants to say something — The connection isn’t fully formed yet, but they’re trying, in order to connect to others. And in that seed for potential interaction you see a familiar struggle — You see yourself and everyone you’ve ever known.


Today is Wednesday, November 28th and my cat jumps at windows to get the bird, but she never gets the bird.

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Jacob Wohl, and Should We Be Talking About Him?

Has anyone else read about the Jacob Wohl story?

This is the guy who tried to fake accusations against Robert Mueller, but was found out due to the most inept faked-conspiracy theory in recent memory. He made hundreds of fake social media profiles, that he used to attempt to corroborate information relayed from his fake “consultancy firm”. Only, most of the profile photos were registered models, and one was actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

I know Superbad was a long time ago, but people don’t forget the Mintz-Plasse. Not with a name like Mintz-Plasse, and a face like McLovin.

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Wohl’s new head of PR

Yesterday he (Jacob Wohl, not McLovin) held a press conference, before which he said he would pay any woman $20,000 to come forward with information about Robert Mueller in regards to sexual assault. Obviously, nobody came forward. It appears as though women won’t just come forward about sexual assault in exchange for money and fame, as some Republicans seem to believe.

Turns out they’re people who’ve been through harrowing experiences seeking to tell the truth, who would have guessed?

His conspiracy and fake network started to unravel when one of his “associates” office phones lead back to his own mother’s cell phone voicemail! I kid you not, HBO will have a TV movie about this guy out by next summer. Probably starring Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Jacob Wohl, for no reason other than the delicious irony.

Wohl’s associate/maybe lawyer, Jack Burkman, even co-led the entire press conference with his fly down. That’s not as relevant, but it really ads to the colour of the situation. I think it might be a metaphor for the entire attempt at fraud that, in a just world, would land Wohl with a couple of years in prison.

Wohl, who looks like a seventy-year-old man who made a deal with the devil to be young again, has been on the fringes of the far-right movement for the last two years. He has been a vocal Trump supporter who peddles the grossest of conspiracy theories, hoping that the President will one day recognise him as a reputable news source.

Which in 2018, that’s the most obvious symptom of unresolved daddy-issues.

Just yesterday he tweeted that Beto O’Rourke is financially supporting the migrant caravan. He made this claim without a source and just threw it out into the world in the form of a selectively edited video. Most of us know this to be ridiculous, but some will buy into it, as we’ve seen with other conspiracy theories in recent years.

At aged twenty, he has already been blacklisted from almost all financial institutions in New York, for lying and claiming to be a hedge-fund manager. He still claims to be a businessman, but the only business he is currently in is misinformation. One that, unfortunately, in 2018 is rather lucrative.

He’s sort-of a cross between Steve Bannon now and Donald Trump at age twenty. He’s a living example of the Trump effect on young people, and surprise surprise it’s in the form of an upper-class brat with delusions of grandeur.

The way he delivered his press conference was even in the style of the Trump administration’s upper rank. He pushed questions away like Sanders, had all the slime-ball anti-charm of a Trump Jr, and the train-of-thought arrogance of the satsuma God-King himself.

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The Trump Presidency has given people like Wohl a platform of legitimacy, because even though we’re laughing at him, we’re still talking about him.

And that’s the recurring problem, isn’t it? Many people argue that left-wing and centrist media continually covering the Trump campaign is what ultimately lead to his victory in 2016, and it’s a perfectly valid argument.

Even though we, the public majority, were stood on the sidelines and laughing at the ridiculous claims of “build that wall” and “lock her up”, we helped to perpetuate these slogans by participating in the mocking. Which, in turn, made his supporters double-down, because they didn’t like being laughed at.

So should the media even be talking about Wohl? Should I even be writing these words? Does it do him more good than it does harm? And is the old adage of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” actually true?

These are a lot of big questions considering the fact that I’ll only be writing for another three-hundred words. And perhaps I’ve done that intentionally, because it’s a complex issue with no correct answer.

Good journalism, true journalism, will try to best inform citizens on the current events of the world. Their job is to present the facts, the data, and to let the crazy speak for itself. I think if these things (Trump campaign, conspiracy theories) are going to happen, then the people need to be made aware of them. It would be even more terrifying if they operated in the dark, and if we couldn’t explain how or why Trump happened.

They definitely need to shift their approach, however. I was impressed by the level of questioning directed at Jacob Wohl at his “press conference”, as they asked about his credentials, his experience as either an investigator or prosecutor (the roles he’s attempting to take on), as well as calling into question the credibility of his claims.

One reporter closed the conference by asking if Wohl and Burkman were ready for federal prison. Which may seem like a flippant question, but fraud and attempting to defame using self-created conspiracy, well, that can land you some serious jail time. You know, if you weren’t a rich white man from New York.

If reporters managed to ask these questions to Sarah Sanders, and if they demanded that she back up the President’s claims with data, facts and statistics, then maybe it wouldn’t be an us vs them shouting match that serves no purpose beyond fuelling Trump’s long-held media mandate.

Maybe it’s because I grew up on him, but I always refer to documentarian Louis Theroux when it comes to getting the truth of a situation from someone. Point a camera, let the crazy speak for itself, spend time with the crazy to show the motives, and then ask questions that reveal just how deep the crazy goes.

I don’t think a continued mocking coverage of situations like Wohl, or the Trump administration are the right answer, but to not cover them at all would also be a mistake. Insects work best when they’re under a rock, and nobody is shining a spotlight on them. Although lately, these cockroaches have appeared immune to rays of truth.


Today is Friday, November 2nd and I’d love to talk, in person, to the sorts of people who blindly believe the words of people like Wohl. I bet they need a hug.

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The NPC Meme

Over the last few days a meme perpetuated by the far-right has been circling social media. The origins of the meme are 4Chan and the r/the_donald subreddit, and it has taken on many forms.

The idea of the meme is to label and brand any non-Trump supporter as an NPC. The far-right has been using this term for a while now, to describe anyone who doesn’t think the same way that they do. NPC is a video-game term and stands for Non-Player Character. The far-right are using this term because they believe anyone anti-Trump to be a brainwashed sheep, who is incapable of independent thought.

Last week they began making Twitter accounts that were “parodies” of anti-Trump folk. They started operating them individually, and used them to spread misinformation about left-leaning people, centrists, independents and moderate conservatives — Basically anyone who isn’t aboard the Trump train.

Over the weekend, many of these accounts were suspended by Twitter, largely for breaching the policy of you needing to be a real person or business. As well as rules they have against trolling, bot-accounts and misinformation (or “fake news”).

The New York Times put together a little collage of some of the hundreds of accounts. I’ve included it below, for some clarity.

NPCcollage

This was an interesting subject to research. Especially as, just this week, Twitter released many of the account transcripts from its crackdown on state-sponsored Russian “bot-farms”. It’s important to point out that these bots come from “both sides”, in that some were anti-Trump and some pro-Trump.

It has been clear for a long time that Russia don’t really mind who is in power in the US, just that the American people are fighting against one another. They’ve started a war of misinformation without having to build a single, physical weapon. Sure, Russia stand to gain more with the Putin-sympathetic President in power. But even if Hillary had won, America would be just as divided, meaning a Russian victory.

I’m generally okay with people on the right poking fun at my political ideologies, as I also have the liberty to poke fun at theirs. I can see how each side believes that the other is living in a “hive mind” of identical opinions, because many of us do remain in our familiar echo chambers. So the far-right branding the left as NPC’s, actually makes a lot of sense from their perspective.

I would argue that the majority of the people making and using the NPC accounts spend their time on 4chan’s /pol/ and Reddit’s r/the_donald, and very little time anywhere else. Neither of these are news sources, as they’re simply message boards on which people can perpetuate the exact same thoughts, on repetition, forever.

Even my conservative relatives (I love them), have the common sense to watch Fox News. It might be a single news source, but it has a duty to report on a variety of subjects, and the world at large. Here are the current front pages of the far-right message boards, and the sorts of things that non-NPC, “free-thinkers” are consuming on an hourly basis:

FPTheDonaldFP4chanpol

I get my news from a variety of sources, and I even try to keep myself engaged with other voices when topics like this arise. For example, I watched a Paul Joseph Watson video to research this subject. I still can’t decide if he believes the things he says and just fails to see the irony, OR if he knows exactly what he needs to say in order to make a living from the far-right. Either way, it’s dangerous.

He used this voice-changing effect throughout his video to simulate the voice of a hive-mind NPC, but then used the same effect at the end of his video to ask his viewers to subscribe, follow and like all of his content. I almost spat out my coffee. And again, if he knows he’s doing it then it’s sort-of clever, but if he doesn’t then he’s a f***ing idiot, who probably thinks in his deluded mind that he’s the John Oliver of the far-right.

Even if you only get your news from ONE credible source, that’s still preferable to reading the comments of anonymous users and taking it as established fact. Reading through some of those threads on /pol/ was a bit of a nightmare, and I feel as though I need some lab-grade eye-bleach, but it proved something to me — The people who made the NPC accounts aren’t consuming any information beyond each other’s comments. It’s all just repeated statements, back and forth.

Yeah, we might all be living in our own echo chambers, but I think I know where the buzziest of hive-minds are. And ironically it’s the people who’re pointing the finger elsewhere. Please far-right, go watch some Fox News or something — Never thought I’d say that.

npcmeme2.jpg

The other interesting aspect of this story is the Russian-bot element. We know they exist in the form of state-sponsored farms, and we also know that far-right message-boards independently created the accounts of hundreds of NPC “bots”. They used these accounts to spread misinformation, and generally troll the electorate. Here’s a source.

I put it to you that the far-right edge-lords on /pol/ and r/the_donald, are doing Russia’s job for them. I’m not saying that they’re being paid by Russia, or that they aren’t Americans — Enough evidence suggests that the far-right acted on their own here. But I am saying that if Americans start making fake accounts in order to influence the opinions of those in the centre, or of vulnerable young people online, then further division will happen. Meaning that Russia get what they want, with even less effort.

The far-right (and I say far-right because I’m not talking about your average conservative voter) have become what they accuse others to be — A hive-mind of bot-accounts who’re seeking to change the views of others by repeating the same phrases over and over.

At least I, and many others (including, unfortunately PJW) have the stomach to put our names and faces to our opinions. We’re individual protagonists or antagonists (depending on your worldview) in a giant, massively-multiplayer online role-playing game called Earth. Anyone who hides on message-boards, who refuses to put a name to their face as they operate a bot account — Well they’re almost the very definition of an NPC.

Pot. Kettle. Black.


Today is Thursday, October 18th and does anybody have any eye-bleach? I need some very strong, weapons-grade, eye-bleach.

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VK and Yandex

I do not posses the investigative-journalism skills needed to write something genuinely insightful on what I’ll be rambling about today. However I couldn’t find any written pieces about it, but if anyone does I’d very much appreciate the link.

I was browsing the Alexa rankings in the US — as you do from time to time, just to see how the old internet is doing — and something really stood out to me. VK.com (VKontakte) is currently the 30th most frequented website in the US, ahead of the New York Times, Hulu and Apple. Yandex.ru is the 33rd most visited site in the US, ahead of Yelp, Walmart and Dropbox.

These are both Russian websites, with VK being a massive social media network often equated to Facebook, and Yandex largely serving as a search engine akin to Google.

Now, before I continue with my disconnected thoughts over a rather large morning mug of coffee, I want to say that the following words are purely speculation. Someone a lot smarter than me, with an extensive knowledge of online media, will be able to swiftly explain why these two websites have been trending upwards on the US Alexa rankings for the last two years. What I’m doing is nothing more than emptying my thoughts onto a blank internet page.

I can’t be clear enough — This is not journalism.

Okay, here I go *clears throat*

Yeah but… Pretty weird thing, isn’t it?


Today is Friday, September 14th and I hope everyone has a great weekend!


thumbsup

No? I can’t just do that? Okay, fine. I’ll write this properly — If I absolutely bloody must.

Obviously we all know about the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and various other democratic votes in the West, including Brexit. Putin denies it on a weekly basis, asking people to show him the evidence. When people then show evidence that Russia (at the very least) “meddled”, he shrugs his shoulders and says that it’s fake evidence.

The ongoing Mueller investigation seeks to find links between the campaigns of the 2016 presidential race and Russian influence. So far plenty of links  (including meetings, memos, offers and state-sponsored agents) have been found among the Trump campaign. But I have to ask — wHat abOUt the eMaiLs!?

In all seriousness, I trust the investigation. Mueller is a Republican who appears to put his country before his party. If he had any special interest it would be to protect Trump, but he obviously isn’t doing that. If Mueller comes out in a year with his report and says that there was no collusion, I’ll believe him. I can’t speak for other filthy lefties, but I think we have to believe in the process of justice and accept the outcome no matter what — Otherwise we sound like O J. Trump.

That was meant to be like “Orange J. Trump” but I now realise it looks like an OJ Simpson reference, and in no way am I saying that Donald has killed someone.

Damn it… Also, in no way am I saying that OJ Simpson killed anyone.

See, this is how you can tell this isn’t real journalism.

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In the past I’ve written about Russian collusion not being for or against any political party, but that alleged state-sponsored “troll farms” are seeking to sew discord across Western democracies in general. Putin has found a way to win a war with America without deploying any troops, simply by getting Americans to turn on each other.

If you use Twitter or Facebook you’ll see that when someone gives an opinion that’s textbook right or left-wing, they’re accused of being a Russian bot. You can usually tell if they really are with a quick profile check, as the account is probably less than a month old and yet has 5,000+ followers. The profile picture is either not an image of a person, or is a stock photo of some kind. However, because it parrots their personal opinions and people don’t check before they “endorse”, thousands still like and retweet the content of the bot.

There’s proof that these troll farms exist, and that they exist in Russia, but to be convincing enough as genuine concerned US citizens, they’ll need to use a US IP address, right?

This is where the conspiracy seeps in, and I wish I’d checked out of this morning blog post three minutes ago, because I loathe speculation.

What if workers at these (alleged) state-sponsored Russian troll-farms are using American IPs to spread discord and distrust on social media, but they’re then checking their own personal social media (VK) and searching the web (Yandex) from the same device? It would be kind-of sloppy of them, but what if these websites are the home-pages on the devices they use? So it’s what automatically pops up whenever they change their IP.

I don’t know, I just find it hard to believe that more Americans are using Russian social media and search engines, than are watching The Handmaids Tale or ordering groceries online or buying the iPhone 15.X. Mainly because I’ve had conversations about these things with Americans, sometimes even strangers, but never have we discussed the benefits of using VK over Facebook, or how Yandex is a really rad search engine.

Maybe because nobody says rad anymore — But they should dammit!

radgif.gif

You can look up the Alexa rankings for yourself, a service powered by Amazon that tracks web-usage country by country. If it were rigged they’d probably put Amazon at the top, so I’m inclined to believe the data is legitimate.

As I said at the beginning, I would love nothing more than for someone to educate me on why these two websites are so popular in the US. It’s not as though China’s top search engine and social media are big-hitters on this side of the world, so why are Russia’s? It all just seems a little suspicious given the current climate.

If there’s one takeaway from all of this, that holds true regardless of whether or not this is all just conspiratorial thinking, it’s that you should be vigilant online.

I’ve written and preached on multiple occasions that you should always check your sources, so that you know where and who your news is coming from. But you should also critically examine anything you see on social media when it comes from someone you don’t know.

If your Facebook friend goes off on a racist rant then you know that’s just Jerry being Jerry, he’s an arse but you know him and you know he’s not a Russian troll. But if John America with 5,000 followers says:

“Interesting how we’re looking at Trump when IN FACT Hilary has managed to escape prison on several occasions for running pedophile rings below pizza parlours??? #lockherup #MAGA”

Then you should maybe be suspicious about where that information comes from.


Today is Friday, September 14th and I really do hope you all have great weekends. Stay safe and be kind.

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Walking Like It’s 2016

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been playing Pokemon GO again. We wanted a reason to get out of the house every evening and go for a walk in the sun, and we’re not people who’re driven by “health benefits”, “free vitamin D” or “normal human activity”.

So we re-downloaded the app from somewhere deep inside of our clouds, and got to walking again. First of all, let me say — Team Mystic for the win!

They’ve added a lot to the game in the last year and a half, but not so much that it wasn’t easy enough to pick up. There are two-hundred new Pokemon to catch, which is great — because I was only really missing twenty or so from the original run of one-hundred and fifty.

I’m not someone who wants to be the best trainer, or gym-battler, or efficient level-upper. I just want to Catch ’em All. That’s what the TV show taught me back in 1999, and so that’s my destiny. Listen to me, taking what an entertainment program says at face-value and allowing it to enter my core-belief system — that’s not what adults do.

An an unrelated note, Fox News have said a lot of crazy things this past week.

pokemongo

Yesterday we went downtown to walk around, spin some Pokestops and hopefully catch a few new Pocket Monsters™. We hadn’t been paying attention to the online community, so we had no idea that it was Zapdos Day. I’d say a thousand people were downtown specifically to play Pokemon Go. Huge flocks of players were walking in unison, looking down at their devices and attempting to catch ’em all.

We actually spoke to some strangers, in an attempt to put a team together to take down a Zapdos, which we could all then catch. Our leader looked like a college professor, but he may have just been cosplaying one of the many Pokemon scientists — he gathered us and we started to look for others.

We found a nervous looking collector, who showed us all of her shiny Pokemon. She seemed panicked that she hadn’t manage to catch a Zapdos yet, as though it were some blight on her very existence that brought a deep shame on her family. Calm down pal, we’ve got this.

Then we met a couple who were pushing their newborn in a stroller. They had two devices each, and so I half expected to see their baby with a smartphone of its own. It turns out it actually did — but it was playing Fortnite.

Our team was formed, and we took on the legendary electric bird together. Post-battle, all of us managed to catch the hulking bird. I mean — I definitely wasn’t going to be successful, but my wife did it for me. She’s a lot better at the game than I am, and what’s marriage for — if not instant, judgement-free video game assistance?

It was great to see so many people enjoying a mobile game that’s been around for over two years. It reminded me that when mobile games work, they’re incredibly social compared to a lot of the voiceless multiplayers of the last decade. Still not quite as social as getting a few of your mates over after school to play something on the original Playstation, with a Multi-tap, but more social than joining a lobby of one-hundred gamers and never saying a word.

pokemongo2

During our walk downtown, we got chatting to a homeless guy who was having a rough time of it. I had the most real and genuine conversation I’ll have all month, and it pains me that people think that all of these folks are faking it. Even if they were — you’ve got to question the sanity, or mental health of a person who wants to do that.

Shakur (nickname) obviously had the brain damage he was touting, due to his repeated sentences and apologies for doing so. Oh, and his visible concave skull. Not once did he ask us for anything, he just wanted to have a conversation with someone. We were surrounded by people — other Pokemon Go players mostly — as it was on the central street downtown. Before anyone unnecessarily worries.

Give me ten random homeless people or ten random middle-class Republican voters, and I know who I’d feel safer around. Only one of those groups tries to take things from me in nefarious, devious ways, and let me assure you that it’s never the people who’re struggling on the streets. Also, their stories are far more interesting.

Our conversation reminded me how lucky I am to be able to stick my face in a phone and catch digital creatures, as I enjoy the summer heat as a luxury and not a struggle. Still, to dwell on a comparison of things that are entirely out of my control would only lead to my own madness. Just remember to talk to these people, at the very least. Keep your wits about you if you must — whatever, but don’t dehumanise them.

We’ve been going to parks across the city, to catch our Pokemon, and I have no doubt that when the summer months come to an end we’ll put our phones down once more. But for now, we’re getting some exercise, and some instant gratification.

Summer of 2017 was a busy one for me, with sorting out my Visa and moving from one country to another, so I can see why I didn’t play the game back then. Hopefully Pokemon Go is here to stay, and we can pick it up again in April of 2019 — if the world is still here.

I reckon — due to climate change — that by 2025 we’ll be able to play in thirty-five degree heat for eleven months of the year. So let’s keep burning those fossil fuels people, because I need a complete Pokedex.

Today is Sunday, July 22nd and my cat just tried to scale my cork-board like a climbing wall. Using the push-pins as hand-holds and everything.

Fakebook

We’ve always had misinformation, only now it’s branded as “Fake News” and on everyone’s Facebook timeline. It used to be found exclusively in tabloid newspapers and cable news channels, ones that aren’t legally eligible for any journalism awards. Because they don’t abide by any standards, and are typically owned by men named Rupert.

People have always consumed biased pieces of media, that lie and distort the truth in order to reinforce their readers long-held world-views. Except now you don’t need access to a $60 a month cable package, or to thumb through your physical tabloid of choice.

There’s a commercial that Facebook have been circulating recently that essentially apologises for their behaviour in the last few years. It’s a typical tech-company advertisement, with a white background and lots of images of everyday people enjoying everyday life. With a little section in the middle that mentions fake news, data-breaches and mistrust. All before sharply cutting back to “normal” people enjoying “normal” things. Whatever that means.

As this is an opinion piece about misinformation; Here’s a disclaimer to say that the following quotations have been made-up for comedic purposes.

“We’re sorry we stored information about your newborn baby, so that we can begin marketing to her when she sets up a Facebook account in a few years time.”

“Wait, you did- what was that?”

“We’re sorry we showed you false information about candidates in the election. We thought you wanted to read about school-shootings being hoaxed by liberals, before you went to the polls.”

“Well you said they were so-“

“We’re sorry we made-up that terror attack and had you worried for your friend who’s on holiday in Morocco. She’s actually fine, and from her search terms she may be pregnant. It’ll be a boy and we’re harvesting his information too! Yay!”

“Hang on a minute!”

Here is a link to the actual advert. They never specify how they’re going to solve the problem, and the whole agonising minute digests like some Orwellian nightmare.

I check Facebook once a day, to quickly see what family members are up to. I live abroad, so at its core, Facebook provides an excellent service for me and my loved ones. Only, as I’m catching up on the daily antics of people in the UK, I still see “Fake News” stories shared. Despite the well-lit commercial promises to combat such misinformation.

Out of the first thirty posts on my timeline, three of them were what would be considered Fake News by anyones standards.

The first was a made-up terror threat from 2016, presented as though it had happened today. Judging by the comments below the article, it convinced the person sharing the “story” that it had taken place. This sews false seeds of both terror and racism, in a world already filled with too much of both.

The second was more of a comedic fabrication about a serious incident, but one that had at least convinced the sharer that it was real. This establishes the outlet as a credible source of information to that particular user.

The third was false information about a rape case, that sought to defend the rapist. Which was easily disproved with a quick read of an article from a well-established and reputable source. The purpose of this article is to encourage misogyny and perpetuate a dangerous myth about victims of sexual assault.

All three of these stories had the appearance of mainstream news. They were formatted in similar ways to official news stories from reputable outlets, but they always have names like…

thenewsaroundtheworldtoday.biz

onlytrueamericannews.net

everythingwesayistrue.yes.it.is

believeusandnobodyelse.conspiracy

I really hope those links aren’t real.

It amazes me that someone would share something without first checking the source, but then again, people have always bought tabloid newspapers that spout fear-mongering stories, designed to sway opinion and spread chaos in our democracy.

The game’s still the same, but it’s instantaneous now.

facebookphone

The hype-train of ‘Facebook is entirely terrible’, is one that I can’t bring myself to board completely. I’ve bought a ticket, sure, but I haven’t packed by suitcase just yet.

It’s the social media platform that older demographics have latched on to, for a multitude of reasons, and I think it’s incredibly important for people of all generations to stay connected in an increasingly digital world. It must be terrifying to be entirely disconnected in a society that encourages as many connections as possible.

Plus, there isn’t a single billion-dollar media company out there that isn’t doing something nefarious. I use Twitter and they certainly have their own issues.

Personally, I like the idea of media literary classes for all. Some schools in Europe already have it on the curriculum, but I’d like to see every citizen take some kind of test that qualifies them to use social media platforms. Although attempting to educate society doesn’t usually go down well with most of the political classes.

It’d be similar to driving tests. You take a test to ensure your safety on the road, so that you aren’t a danger to yourself or others. Misinformation in one country can lead to deaths in another. Voting one way based on false-promises can lead to a chain reaction of global events that sees the slow dismantling of 20th century democracy.

I’m looking at you Brexit Leave Campaign.

Growing up during the rise of the internet, I remember teachers telling us regularly to not believe anything we read online. They said that Wikipedia wasn’t a good source of information because “anyone can just say anything they want”. Despite the fact that citations are given, and it’s clear whenever they’re not.

And now we’re in a place where that same generation of teachers are believing everything they see on their Facebook feeds, simply because it’s muddled among Sharon’s drunken posts about her ex-husband and Claire’s advertisements for her luxury bath-bombs.

You’re involved in a pyramid scheme Claire, they don’t have the heart to tell you, but I do. Believe in yourself Claire, make your own bath-bombs!

bath bombs
I love stock photos

It’s not entirely generational. I know people older than me who’re just as savvy with their media literacy as I am, if not more-so. And equally I have old school-friends who blindly share misinformation like it’s going out of style.

It’s not, it’s very on-trend. Fake News is vogue. I think I used that word right.

Ultimately, I don’t mind which way elections swing. I just want the playing field to be fair and balanced. What scares me is that we have ruling parties across the West who’re doing very little to challenge Fake-News. Zuckerberg keeps getting off lightly in his hearings, and I can’t help but feel like he’s just at them for show.

The rapid spread of misinformation is going to continue to be one of the key problems of the century. All I can encourage anyone to do is to check sources and recognise when an opinion piece is an opinion piece. I’ll give you a clue, this is an opinion piece.

And at election time, search your hearts and minds. Gather information from reputable sources and have discussions with friends and family. Prove each other wrong with facts and statistics, and be open to each other’s world-views before coming to your own, private decision that’s fact-based.

I’ll leave you with a snippet of conversation my London-based friends and I had with an Uber driver a couple of months back.

“So aren’t they banning screwdrivers and scissors from the UK now? Because of all the crime.”

“No, that’s not true. Where are you getting your news from?”

“Facebook.”

Today is Friday, June 15th and it’s difficult to inject comedy into such a serious topic.

Have any thoughts on all of this? Do you have any examples of Fake News you’ve seen online? Let me know in the comments below!