How social media design choices help us shame each other

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Launched in 2015, Twitter’s retweet with comment or “quote tweet” feature is now pro forma. Those of us on Twitter quote tweet for all kinds of reasons — to recommend a great podcast, amplify other voices, dunk on political opponents, or share cat videos with approving heart emojis. Quote tweets are useful in providing reference and sharing information.

But when we quote tweet, we’re also creating a kind of meme. And while memes can be fun, they also can make online conversation a lot more snarky and a lot less civil.

We tend to think of memes as self-contained visual objects (a picture with some text on it). We think of images like the “Distracted Boyfriend” or viral TikTok videos. Though they don’t follow the format of “text plus picture,” quote tweets are like memes because they repurpose other texts and make them their own unique visual object. …


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In this essay, I’m talking about heterosexual, cis-gendered men. When you come across terms like men, male, masculinity, etc. the “cishet” is implied — though to be clear, women and LGTBQ otaku do, have always, and always will, exist as integral to otaku culture. Though the topic is narrow, please don’t take the scope of this essay as an erasure of those identities and experiences.

In Japan, there’s been a good amount of discourse about “otaku” and what they represent.

The word sparks different ideas: from pop culture nerds to fanatics to anti-social to sexual perversion, even pedophilic. Others argue that otaku reflect the Japanese “kawaii” culture— from cat-eared girls to Tamagotchi pocket pets to cosplay — an “obsession” with cuteness, childhood, and media that “postpones the pressures of adulthood.” …


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When I was about 14 or 15, I played this computer game called SimGirls.

It was story-based game where you play as a male student at Fukoma High School who was trying to get a girl to date and eventually sleep with you. At the beginning of the game, you choose what “style” you want to have: Criminal, Playful, Intelligent, or Casual. The goal is to increase your Charm, Strength, and Knowledge attributes to get a girlfriend.

You go up levels the more you answer your love interest’s questions correctly and do nice things for her—flirting, buying her gifts, talking on the phone, dating, etc. …


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Cropped image from book cover

Adrian Daub’s “What Tech Calls Thinking” is one of the most insightful critiques on the tech industry that I’ve read. The book identifies, deconstructs and challenges the ideas, values and philosophies that permeate Silicon Valley. Daub unmasks terms like “innovation,” “disruption,” “risk-taking” and others, asking us to wrestle with their true foundations and implications, as opposed to tacitly accepting them.

“What Tech Calls Thinking” open with a discussion of “dropping out”; on figures like Elizabeth Holmes, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and others who attend prestigious universities but drop to found innovative companies that make them billions of dollars. When connected to the chapter deconstructing the tech world’s “genius aesthetic,” Silicon Valley promotes a view of education that is utilitarian and “pretty openly transactional.” …


Who needs a weapon when you are a weapon?

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Balrog (left) and TJ Combo (right) from ‘Street Fighter’ and ‘Killer Instinct.’ Photo: Capcom

When I was young, I was a big fan of the original Killer Instinct games.

My favorite character was Glacius, a powerful being made of ice. You could turn his hands into weapons or melt down to a puddle, reemerging with an uppercut to opponents. Other characters in the game were the sword-wielding warrior monk Jago; Sabrewulf and Riptor, a werewolf and fighting raptor; Spinal, a skeletal soldier; and a brutal cybernetic soldier named Fulgore.

There was also TJ Combo. Though this boxing champion has one of the illest Ultra combos in fighting game history, he seemed a bit mundane compared to the other characters. …


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A few years ago I taught freshmen English and composition. During down times where I wasn’t instructing (or maybe when they had tuned me out), several of my students drew cartoon or anime characters in their notebooks. A few of them were really talented, and I encouraged all of them to keep up with it.

However, one thing I noticed was that my students, who were all Black, rarely (if ever) drew black characters. This was both interesting and perplexing.

I’m inclined to surmise that there’s at least partially a technical reason for this: when drawing, you start with the blank, white page. Most of these artistic students really loved anime, and the dominant depictions in the genre are light or white skin tones. Also, when you are young, the palette that colors your imaginations is based off what you see. In Western contexts like America, most of the iconic superheroes and animated characters are generally white (or at least coded as such. …


We’re creating a marketplace of disinformation

Over-the-shoulder shot of a person with short hair viewing Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.
Over-the-shoulder shot of a person with short hair viewing Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The 1993 film Demolition Man imagines a future given over to surveillance, cultural conformity, and social control. There is even a literal “speech police” — an A.I. that automatically gives people tickets for using foul language. Some who don’t want to be subject to such restrictive controls live underground in order to preserve their freedom of speech and choice.

At one point in the film, leading rebel Edgar Friendly, played by Dennis Leary, mounts a passionate monologue defending personal liberty. He says “I want high cholesterol. I want to eat bacon, butter, and buckets of cheese, okay? I want to smoke a Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in a nonsmoking section. I wanna run through the streets naked with green Jello all over my body reading Playboy magazine. Why? …


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“We needed our own heroes like we needed bread to eat.” — Jose Eduardo Agualusa in “The Book of Chameleons”

The struggle between history and memory takes place in books and on battlefields; in canons and in cannons. The Book of Chameleons shows how it isn’t just a state and academic matter, but one of everyday people; bringing it down to the personal, mundane, and clandestine.

Set in Luanda, Angola, The Book of Chameleons follows Felix Ventura, an albino Angolan who sells pasts — creates documents, finds newspaper articles, draws up birth certificates, photos, anything the customer needs to be immersed in them in their new personal history. His calling card is “Felix Ventura. Guarantee your children a better past.” …


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Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted a series of anti-Semitic posts on Instagram, one of which included a quote ((saying that black people were the true Israelites) about Jews falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler. Nick Cannon was dropped by ViacomCBS after making anti-Semitic comments on his Canon’s class podcast. Both have apologized.

These instances have spurred further conversation about anti-Semitism within the black community. While we should work to eradicate bigotry in all its forms, the history between the Jewish people and African Americans have made accusations of anti-Semitism less palpable in black communities. …


Shalini Kantayya on her new documentary, ‘Coded Bias,’ and the importance of breaking open the black box of algorithm design

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Photo courtesy of 7th Empire Media.

The protests across the U.S. and around the globe in the wake of the murder of George Floyd have raised awareness about structural inequalities. Though the specific focus has been on police brutality, scholars, activists, and artists are sounding the alarm on how systemic racism has been amplified in other areas like the tech industry, through communication and surveillance technology.

In Coded Bias, a documentary by Shalini Kantayya, the director follows MIT Media Lab researcher and Algorithmic Justice League founder Joy Buolamwini as she discovers one of the fundamental problems with facial recognition. While working on a facial recognition art project, Buolamwini realizes that the computer vision software was having trouble tracking her face, but it worked fine when she put on a white mask. It was just the latest evidence of the type of bias that’s baked into facial recognition and A.I. …

About

Joshua Adams

Joshua Adams is a writer and journalist from Chicago. UVA & USC. Taught media and communication at DePaul & Salem State. Twitter: @journojoshua

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