Kara Swisher Interviews Mark Zuckerberg

Kara Swisher Interviews Mark Zuckerberg

John Gruber, at Daring Fireball, from his comment on an extract from the interview:

They’re offering a powerful platform that reaches the entire world to lunatics who, in the pre-internet age, were relegated to handing out mimeographs while spouting through a megaphone on a street corner.

The internet has been a greatly democratizing force. You can now share your ideas with anyone anywhere in the world nearly instantaneously. Even China, with a specialized, centralized, actively censored network cannot completely stop people from bypassing their controls to share information. There are, effectively, no gatekeepers who can reliably prevent you from getting your words out to the world.

There’s literally nothing stopping you or anyone else from creating your own web page. Twenty years ago when I was a broke college student I went dumpster diving and cobbled together parts into an experimental Franken-Mac. You can make your own web server out of actual garbage if you want to.

If someone wants to do the internet equivalent of wearing a sandwich board proclaiming “THE END IS NIGH”, they can do it in any number of ways. That’s more or less what Time Cube did until the page’s creator died in 2015.

I am a strong free speech proponent, to the point that I’ve said in the past, “I may think you’re a fucking asshole who doesn’t deserve to share the same oxygen other human beings breathe, but I’ll still fight to the death for your right to express your ideas in public.”

Protecting free speech is not the same thing as providing a platform for that speech. Facebook is not “the internet”, it’s only one large social network; a blue whale in an ocean of information.

It doesn’t matter whether Holocaust deniers believe what they’re saying or not. It doesn’t matter whether the “just asking questions” crowd is actually making an argument in good faith (spoiler: they aren’t). You aren’t obligated to give them a place to speak. Your only obligation is to protect their right to express their ideas in a publicly available forum. The creation of that forum is their responsibility.

There is no reason for Zuckerberg’s company to provide the internet equivalent of a stage, microphone, and TV camera crew to every crank who has an account on Facebook.


Eli Schiff:

It was at this point that the troubling nature of the situation became more clear. It is not simply that it is problematic for whites to use the white emoji, but so too is it racist for them to use the brown shades and the yellow default. In sum, it is racist for whites to use any emoji.

There are two choices going forward: either white users should refrain from using emoji, or an alternative default must be drawn. Perhaps green, blue or purple would be an ideal choice as they don’t have racial connotations.

The problem with using inhuman colors is that unexpected and unwanted correlations might be drawn[1] that are almost as bad as the racial connotations invoked by more natural colors.

 From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

Yellow has the benefit of following prior art, which is probably why it remained the default color up to now. Among the earliest implementations of specific graphics rather than repurposed ASCII glyphs, AIM face smilies, also called emoticons[2] were bright yellow.

 from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

DoCoMo’s original emoji were bitmapped glyphs, later featuring an expanded set, and didn’t extend to inline images until Deco-mail emoji (デコメ絵文字) specified i-mode compatible image formats. The bitmapped “faces” variously used different shades of blue, purple, red, and green pixels on early mobile color screens to help convey different moods. Negative emotions were generally blue, for example (see: “Disappointed face” or “Dizzy” in the basic set; “Crying”, “Enduring face”, “Tear” in the expanded set) but some had an orange “skin” color (“Ear”, the “Hand” glyphs, and “Foot” in the basic set; “Yumm!”, “He he he”, “Thumbs up” in the expanded set). Deco-mail emoji mostly followed suit.

The people who did the most to promote graphical communication on mobile platforms, the Japanese themselves (aka: “yellow” people) tend not to think of race very much. There are two default settings in Japanese race relations:

  1. Japanese.

  2. Everybody else.

While some individual Japanese do take ethnicity into account, most Japanese treat culture and ethnicity as a package deal, especially in relation to Japan. It’s mostly in the hyper-self-aware West that anyone pays attention to any fine gradations in color.

(See: actual Japanese reactions to Hollywood casting. Many Japanese featured in that video didn’t even consider race to be an issue in casting until it was directly addressed, and the term “whitewashing” even had to be explained.)

While I think it’s generally a good idea to think about making things more inclusive and less discriminatory — I’ve written before about how weird it has been for me to live in a place that is almost entirely mono-ethnic[3] — making the blanket statement that it’s racist to use emoji at all is, frankly, bullshit. It’s like saying that if you are using a language that has grammatical gender you’re being unavoidably sexist.[4]

What happens in reality is that the way people use language has very little to do with its structure. You could take a complete nonsense word or phrase with no antecedent and make it racist or sexist, or create whatever meaning or nuance you desired, depending on context, usage, or the social group using it. We shape language much more than it shapes us; the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is very weakly supported by empiricism. Some of the most sexist and racist cultures on the planet use languages that do not have linguistic gender.[5]

While I obviously disagree with most of what Schiff said, I actually do think that “skin” color in emoji should probably be addressed. I have two proposed solutions:

  1. Make it a non-human color (other than yellow, since that is considered “tainted” now) by default.

  2. Randomly assign a realistic tint.

And then don’t give the user any control whatsoever over it.

I like option 2 because skin color shouldn’t even be an issue any more. “White” people shouldn’t be obsesses about being seen as insensitive, exclusionary, or oooh, being mistaken for the “R” word because they don’t change the default inhuman bright yellow to an anemic rather than jaundiced tint. More understandable, but nearly as petty are the Melanin-Enhanced North-American Residents of Various Ethnic Extractions (MENARoVEE) who might agonize over just the right shade to add to their representative visage.[6]

One of the ways to make the world color-blind is to destroy the distinctions, not ignore them, nor reinforce them.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in a place where everyone looks different from me. I get daily questions about my language, my customs, my clothing, my food, my hair, my skin, my facial features, my size … you get the idea. Racism based on skin color is completely irrelevant when you have actual cultural differences to deal with.

People who are ultra-sensitive about racial and social issues would greatly benefit from living overseas, where agonizing about the color of emoji would be put into perspective as an amazingly petty concern compared to the daily experience of being perpetually different from everyone around them, and being completely powerless to affect changes in society about how people who are “othered” like them are treated.

  1. Unsurprisingly, South Park parodied the hell out of the blue-skinned Na’vi = big-assed Smurf association in their Dances with Smurfs episode.  ↩

  2. Amazingly, the best source of original artwork and the overall history of emoticons I can find is at Know Your Meme, of all sites. Odd source, but it does square with what I remember from actually having used these things from back before the internet was A Thing, back when I was dialing into message boards on a hand-me-down 2400 baud modem … Jesus Christ, I’m old. ↩

  3. Yes, you read that right, that is not a misplaced decimal point. Japan has an estimated native non-ethnic Japanese population of 0.2%, and a (very well) documented foreign resident population of just over 1.2 percent, of which more than half are of East Asian descent, or as some long-term residents — including Asians themselves — call them, “stealth gaijin”.  ↩

  4. Which actually has been asserted unironically.  ↩

  5. Note that there is also a difference between grammatical gender and a sociolect, in which men and women might use language in different ways and may diverge significantly, to the point of becoming a sub-dialect. The linguistic differences reflect the culture, and are almost certainly not the driver of the linguistic separation.  ↩

  6. I have some Native American mixed into my Anglo-American mutt genetic history. The only time it shows is in an odd tint to my skin when I’m actually out in the sun enough to tan significantly. When I was a country kid and ran around nearly naked from when it got warm enough in the spring until early fall when it started to get cold, I used to mix raw sienna and burnt umber with “flesh” crayons to approximate the color.  ↩

Japan and the Next US President

Nakayama Toshihiro for Nippon.com. The title pretty much says it all: Japan and the Next US President: Thinking the Unthinkable

My two thoughts on a Trump presidency:

  1. I wouldn’t be able to move back to the US anytime soon, because apparently all y’all is #^¢*ing nuts.

  2. Staying in Japan might not be a good idea either because, given some of the insane crap Trump has said he would do as President, life could get very uncomfortable for an American.

I guess the best defense in this situation might be humor, but the laughter is feeling pretty shaky already.

It has happened before. It will happen again. And it can happen here

Theodore Gray:

Once the tool exists, it will be abused. I really wish I could say otherwise. I wish I lived in a country where law enforcement acted with the square-jawed nobility of a comic book FBI agent. I used to think I did live in such a country, but in recent years I have been forced to realize that I don’t. I think that, in your heart, you know it too.

And if you happen to like the party in power today, just remember, every tool you give them is inherited by the next guy. Think of the worst possible outcome of the next election, the worst new president, the worst new congress you can imagine (whichever one that might be for you). Do you want those people to have the power to look and listen to anyone they please, anytime, anywhere? To search at will through recordings of our most personal moments? To use a rubber stamp warrant to gather dirt on someone who insulted them? To review the browsing history of anyone who annoys them publicly enough?

An invocation of what I call the “Worst Enemy Test” spotted in the wild.


One of the most common questions I’m asked by Japanese when I’m meeting them for the first time is「日本に来たとき、どう思いましたか?」or, “What was your first impression of Japan?” I quickly settled on the answer「皆は日本人です。」“Everyone is Japanese.”

This chart from Priceonomics helps explain:

 From the Priceonomics Blog post “The Most and Least Diverse Cities in AmericA”

From the Priceonomics Blog post “The Most and Least Diverse Cities in AmericA”

(Via Priceonomics )

I grew up in California. I lived out in the Sierra Nevada foothills as a kid, which are still far less diverse[1] than most of California, but I lived near Sacramento from mid-elementary to a couple of years after graduation. My baseline normal is seeing whites, blacks, hispanics, asians, and an assortment of people of less-easily-categorizable ethnic and national backgrounds around me all the time.

When I walked around my hotel the night I first came to Japan, it struck me: everyone was Japanese. And I do mean everyone. Once you get away from Narita airport, non-Japanese faces become vanishingly rare. Once you get out of the Tokyo area, you might be the foreigner in a town. I had suddenly become a very small minority in a very homogeneous society.

This was an extremely odd feeling for me. While I never lived in a place where whites (and other Anglo-American mutts like me who appear ostensibly white) were an actual minority, there was enough mixing that everyone mostly treated each other like individuals instead of representatives of a racial group. I did have a few minor encounters with racial tensions in school[2], but knowing how teenage males are, I probably would have had similar experiences with analogous assholes even if everyone in the school was racially homogenous.

Being in Japan was my first experience being on the receiving end of openly discriminatory attention. Sometimes, the attention was benign to neutral: curious grandmas following me around commenting to themselves on what I was buying at the supermarket; children running after me, yelling “haro!” eager to try out their English on a real-live foreigner; or gaijin-groupies using me for vicarious contact with the outside world.

Sometimes, the attention was not so nice: police following me for several blocks or going out of their way to “talk” to me (and <ahem> incidentally check my identification); bôsôzoku[3] making overtly threatening gestures at me when they rode by; people saying that they couldn’t understand my English even when I was speaking Japanese (with, I’ve been told, a pretty decent accent); countless nasty remarks, jokes, and incidents of minor violence that I would probably never have had to deal with if I were a Japanese person.

Diversity is going to be a major problem for Japan in the not-so-distant future. The birth rate [4] is still steeply negative, and the elderly proportion of the population is growing as longevity remains one of the highest in the entire developed world. Japan has been dealing with labor shortages for a time scale edging into decades now, and their immigration policies and domestic systems are absolutely not designed to deal with an influx of foreigners.

The last time Japan tried to import labor, they tried offering special work visas preferentially to the descendants of Japanese residing abroad. That didn’t work out as they hoped, since nisei or sansei (first and second generation descendants of Japanese) are culturally no more Japanese than “regular” Brazilians or Peruvians. They actually started offering financial incentives for them to go back to their country of origin. And not come back.

I’ve run into discrimination even as one of the more desirable minorities; Caucasian, educated, employed in an area that competes minimally with Japanese. Japanese society is going to have to adjust drastically to survive with anything approaching the current standard of living intact.

Even notoriously egalitarian Sweden has had riots due to inequality — whether perceived or real — between mainstream Swedes and immigrants. If Japan stops being 98–99% Japanese, I feel pretty comfortable in predicting race riots in less than a generation.

The US has had a long history of dealing with different races and cultures, and still fuck it up constantly. Japan has nearly zero experience with integration and peaceful co-existence. Oh sure, there are Koreans and Chinese in Japan, but being Asian they can usually elect to “pass” as Japanese and even so, integration into Japanese society has not been at all smooth. I do not expect that to change with respect to people who are quite different in appearance and therefore more easily “othered” than ethnic Asians.

  1. At the time, there were more poor to lower-middle income whites than anything else. Now, I’ve heard some old familiar areas referred to as “tweeker hills”, with all of the usual associations you’d have with an area where meth labs are prevalent.  ↩

  2. There were a lot of asian and hispanic gangs in my area, with a few smaller black and white gangs to provide some flavor. Nearly every violent encounter I had in school was with kids who were either in a gang, or wanted to be.  ↩

  3. 暴走族, “violent speed tribe”; members of flashy biker gangs. (“Speed Tribes”, whose title was inspired by bôsôzoku, was a pretty good book, by the way. Captured the zeitgeist of the time.)

    They tended to have right-wing politics and prejudices, i.e.: “throw out all the damn foreigners and take back Japan for Japan”, and cause (mostly) low-level trouble. More ambitious members often ended up in a yakuza family if they “graduated” to grown-up violence. Known membership has fallen significantly in recent years.  ↩

  4. Working link to the referenced paper available here  ↩

Reddit — Hate Speech or Free Speech?

Adi Robertson for The Verge

Committing to absolute, hands-off openness will eventually mean defending speech that is truly worthless and harmful.

The problem Reddit faces isn’t necessarily allowing hate speech, it’s in hosting a forum for it.

I have used these words in defense of controversial speech before:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” Evelyn Beatrice Hall[1]

… because in general I agree with the sentiment.

No one should be arbitrarily silenced, no matter what they say, even if those words are “truly worthless and harmful”. Yes, KKK members should have the same right to say what they want in public that I do, for exactly the same reason, even though the beliefs of a Klan member and mine could not be more divergent.

It goes back to my Worst Enemy Test: Could you trust your own worst enemy with this power? If not, you need to build in sufficient protections that you could. You should always build laws and societal mores with the idea that someone ideologically opposed to you might end up in power, or someday you will be oppressed using tools you created. It doesn’t matter how pure your intentions and how worthy the cause, if you create a tool that can be misused, it will be.

As a practical matter, it’s arguably better that horrible people feel safe enough to air their hate in public, so that everyone knows that they’re shitty excuses for human beings, rather than forcing them to conceal their beliefs in dark corners of society where they can gather together to fester in secret.

However, there is a difference between the principle of protecting everyone’s right to free speech and providing a pulpit for them. I would defend even the right of my worst enemy to continue to say what she or he wishes to say about me, but I would not provide a forum.[2]

Reddit may decide that they still wish to continue fostering hate under the aegis of what they consider to be neutrality. The repercussions of that decision will probably lead to the eventual death of Reddit as a useful forum for anything positive and productive. Even a fan and prominent user of Reddit, CGP Grey said in a recent podcast that he believes the problems are structural, which is a far more intractable situation than just dealing with a vocal and troublesome minority.

  1. Often, and erroneously attributed to Voltaire.  ↩

  2. There are many reasons I’ve never allowed comments on this blog. You can criticize me anywhere you like, but I’m not going to provide you a place for your criticism; that’s your responsibility.  ↩

Post something on your blog? Death threat?

From: “How did death threats become so casual?” by Stuart Jeffries at The Guardian

If, in 1989, a death threat was exceptional and shocking, today it has become part of the background blah of everyday life. It’s the go-to response of anyone with two thumbs and a keyboard whenever someone does or says something they don’t like. Feminist campaigner suggests how lovely it would be to have a woman, say Jane Austen, on a £10 note? Death threat. Thirty-four-year-old Heidi Agan dares to make a living as the world’s leading Duchess of Cambridge lookalike? Anti-royalist death threat. Can’t bear to live in a world so unfair that Jeremy Clarkson no longer presents Top Gear? Then tweet your hopes for the imminent demise of third parties. One Twitter user, for example, said they hoped Tymon “visits the morgue very soon”; while another wrote: “Tony Hall BBC director, I wonder if Oisin’s and your head can stop a bullet!!! just wondering.” Someone looks at you wrong? Death threat. Someone spills your pint? Death threat. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

I fundamentally disagree with the premise of this piece. Going back to the 80s, before the public had general access to the internet, even minor celebrities used to get a significant volume of death threats and otherwise creepy or disgusting mail, which is why so many employed readers to screen it. Just two incidents I remember from my youth:

Sarah McLachlan’s song “Possession” was based on letters from fans she got when she was still relatively unknown outside Canada.

Rebecca Schaeffer’s killing by a “fan” in 1989 (the same year as Rushdie’s fatwa cited by Jeffries) led to the reform of privacy laws and the enaction of anti-stalking legislation in California, and significantly changed how seriously stalking was regarded by law enforcement. Prior to that very public and shocking killing, the attitude of law enforcement ranged from “meh”, to, “Blah hasn’t actually done anything illegal or physically threatening yet, so we can’t do anything about it”.

There are two minor things that have changed recently with regard to social media, only one of which was addressed by Jeffries.

The argument Jeffries did make is that social media make it physically and psychologically easier to actually send threats. This has possibly has increased the incidence of those threats a bit, but there’s no real evidence of that other than his assertion that a death threat is less “shocking” now than in the past.

Granted, the bar is far lower than physically creating a letter and mailing it off, so there might indeed be more death threats numerically, though I would doubt that there’s much of a difference proportionally. The sheer volume and number of contact points between a celebrity and the public has probably increased the number of messages of all sorts that a celebrity would come into direct contact with by an order of magnitude.

In my opinion, a far bigger amplifying effect would be the immediacy of making a threat online. There’s no several-day delay between sending a letter and its receipt; a troll knows that the victim received it nearly instantaneously. Sports fans have complained that Twitter can be a few seconds faster than a live broadcast of the game, which has minor signal processing delays on both ends.

This immediacy has a positive effect as well — the instant feedback from Twitter or Facebook comments encourages people to engage with public figures in a way that we never did in the past. Savvy celebrities have catered to their fan base and enjoyed greater success than they might have had in the past.

The negative possibilities have been amply demonstrated with shitstorms like Gamergate, driven by the old familiar standbys of mob mentality, anonymity, and lack of accountability that stretch from antiquity to recent history.

Open Voluntary vs. Minimum Mandatory

Mathias Meyer at Paperplanes: “From Open (Unlimited) to Minimum Vacation Policy”:

I was horrified reading this, and it dawned on me how wrong we’ve approached our internal vacation policy. This text sums up exactly what’s wrong with an open vacation policy. People take less time off, and it’s celebrated as a success of giving people more responsibility.

Uncertainty about how many days are okay to take time off can also stir inequality. It can turn into a privilege for some people who may be more aggressive in taking vacations compared to people who feel like their work and their appreciation at work would suffer from being away for too long.

From my experience living and working in Japan, this would be viewed as a feature — not a bug — in most Japanese workplaces. Quitting time and time off are both on an invisibly-adjusted sliding scale, modified by seniority and other opaque social cues. The result is that you are never sure about when you can go home from work. You are never sure about how much time you can take off. You explicitly have only a maximum amount of time you can take off. No one wants to violate social norms and be considered a selfish piece of shit, so no one ever, ever takes all of the time off they are theoretically entitled to.

I honestly would consider killing for a job where the people in charge of the company thought like this:

Starting in 2015, we’ve implemented a minimum vacation policy. Rather than giving no guideline on what’s a good number of days to take off, everyone now has a required minimum of 25 (paid) vacation days per year, no matter what country they live in. When people want to take time off beyond that, that’s good, and the minimum policy still allows for that. But it sets a lower barrier of days that we expect our employees to focus on their own well-being rather than work.

This policy is not just a guideline for our employees, it’s mandatory for everyone, including the people who originally founded the company. As leaders, we need to set examples of what constitutes a healthy balance between work and life rather than give an example that life is all about the hustle.

… instead of the normal Japanese model, where you are expected to show your dedication by working more than everyone else, taking less time off, working longer hours, and do all that extra work without demanding any overtime pay.

"Hakuhô rewrites sumo history with record-breaking 33rd championship"

Another Mongolian has set records in the sumo world. I earlier wrote about Asashôryu who was, for a few years, not just a yokozuna but the only yokozuna in sumo.

Since more and more foreign athletes have tried competing in the sport in recent years, the sumo world has had an influx of talent. Non-Japanese wrestlers have topped the match charts, broken old records, and set new ones. While the new dynamism has recently generated some renewed interest in a sport shackled by tradition — to the point of keeping many of the trappings of its origins as a religious ceremony centuries after the fact — sumo recruitment in Japan has been trending downward.

A future in which there are more foreign wrestlers than Japanese is probably not too far off, even with the unofficial limit of only one foreigner per stable the sumo association has decreed. Particularly in the higher ranks, foreigners have been dominant. There hasn’t been a Japanese yokozuna in over a decade.

Here’s a link to video of the record-breaking match between Hakuhô (白鵬) and Kisenosato (稀勢の里).