Social Media

Linking Without Consent: The New (Imagined) Tragedy of the Twitter Commons


Dani and George/Flickr

Public tweets are public. This is a fact, not a value judgment.

Twitter gives users the option to "protect" their accounts, only granting access to those a user chooses, but most folks voluntarily keep accounts open—which means that anything they post can be seen by anyone else on the Internet. It can also be re-tweeted, screenshotted, or even linked to from an outside site. 

If it seems like I'm overexplaining a pretty basic concept here: yes. And I'm really only paraphrasing what Hamilton Nolan has said better before. But this idea—that public tweets are public, can be viewed by the public, and can be shared in public—is apparently rather controversial in some circles. Twice in the past few months, journalists linking to public tweets have been targeted by folks hellbent on making the concept of violence so broad as to be meaningless and ignoring the forest for the (preferably posted with trigger warnings) trees. 

The latest incident stems from an Amber A'Lee Frost piece in Jacobin, "Bro Bash." After seeing Thomas Piketty and journalist Doug Henwood referred to as "broconomists", Frost criticized what she perceives as a nouveau left tendency to lower the bar for what's considered "outlandish masculinity."

Much like the hipster, Frost writes, "nearly any characteristic can be conveniently attributed to the bro," and nearly anyone—including a "chichi French economist" and a "poetry-loving Brooklyn dad on lefty radio"—can be labeled as such. The main thrust of Frost's piece seems to be that there's a resurgent tendency to view data as suspect, and this stems from both anti-elitism and "the reduction of feminist critique to the Fear of The Bro and His Insidious Patriarchal Methodologies." 

Make of that what you will—but no one engaging with the essay cared to. Instead, most of the attention has been focused on a link, now removed, to a public tweet from Al Jazeera journalist Sarah Kendzior. It was offered as an example of someone applying "the diminutive label of bro" to "violent aggression like rape threats," of which Frost disapproved. For this, Frost, Jacobin, and its editor, Megan Erickson, were accused of "endangering (Kendzior's) life." Anyone who disagreed was "defending misogyny" and probably "part of the pro-rape left."

If you're thinking are you fucking kidding me?then join the club. But there were also a significant number of people chiming in against Frost for linking without consent

The last time Twitter erupted over this was March, when a Buzzfeed reporter compiled some tweets about what women were wearing when sexually assaulted. "Twitter is full of people who are here to talk to each other. Not the world," wrote activist Mikki Kendall at the time. A petition called for "journalists, media companies and social media platforms like Twitter … to outline the ethical and moral obligations journalists have to not engage in violence toward marginalized people, survivors of sexual violence and others when engaging in online discussions." Here, not engaging in violence includes not linking to and/or quoting public tweets.  

That controversy eventually evolved into debate on whether quoting rape survivors' tweets, even with their permission (which the Buzzfeed reporter had), was ethical for journalists. In this case, the argument is more explicitly that writers should treat public tweets like they're not public, for some reason, and doing otherwise may be a form of HTML terrorism. 

If I spoke at a public panel, tacked a paper to a public bulletin board with my name on it, or stood ranting on a street corner, any of these statements could be quoted by journalists with legal impunity—and I highly doubt most people would find this ethically problematic, either. Under what possible rationale does someone have a reasonable expectation of privacy when speaking/writing/ranting on a worldwide platform?

Nolan got to the crux of the issue at Gawker: 

Just because you wish that someone would not quote something that you said in public does not mean that that person does not have the right to quote something that you said in public.

Anyone who has ever publicly spoken or written something dumb (hello), only to have that thing quoted and insulted by others, has probably wished that the thing that they said or wrote was not public. That feeling, while understandable, is only a wish. It does not mean that the thing they said or wrote was not, in fact, public.

Whether and when public tweets are public—answers: yes, and always—is not up for debate. It's a fact, and one that dealing in reality requires acknowledging. If you don't want people to link to or quote your tweets, then privatize your account or shut your virtual mouth. It really is that simple. 

I'll let New York Times media columnist David Carr sum it up. A whopping two years ago—that's about a century in meme and outrage cycles— Carr told Poytner he saw Twitter as a "village common" and anything posted there as fair game. "Everything said there, however considered or not, is public," Carr said. "I assume that if someone is saying something on Twitter, they want it to be known." 

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  1. Bitch, please

  2. I’ll never accept that quoting people is somehow dishonest. You put something out in public and it is fair game. Forever.

  3. Ok when Coase or derpologist or whoever posts those links about stupid shit feminists say and do it is fun and funny…

    But honestly this stuff is well below Reason.

    Also who the fuck are these people?

    You know when Matt does a much deserved hit piece on stupid shit tom Friedman writes and says I actually know who wrote what.

  4. Image alt text: “I was having a hard time illustrating this post”

    Might I recommend a screenshot of one of wieners public tweets. Alt-text “Sword tip of Al Queda?”

  5. Read the comments on a CNN new article.

    If you were to sort people by political views on some huge phase space describing all possible political views, the vast majority of people would end up in clusters of derpiness that are as stupid or stupider than what is written in the comments of the articles on CNN.

    It’s not surprising that large numbers of people think that a person should be able to treat as private something broadcast publicly.

    1. It’s not surprising that large numbers of people think that a person should be able to treat as private something broadcast publicly.

      And yet large numbers of people don’t seem to care one bit about NSA reading emails and listening to cell phones and IRS handing out data to whoever. And the government pretty much has every banking transaction you ever made open to them.

      Maybe I should just find a way to get raped so I can finally get some privacy.

      1. I’m sure Warty could help you with that, Josh.

      2. Yeah, but it’s OK when the gummint is all informationy about me, and stuff, cause – protecting me!

        Whereas (a friend informed me) Best Buy and other places I voluntarily give information to are Evul Kochporashunz, and I should be AFRAID of them! Cause – DAS KAPITALIST, JA!

        So… #Logic #Science

  6. The main thrust

    Brornalism rape.

    1. I am interested in your ideas and would like to subscribe to your brony fanclub newsletter.

      1. Different Bros I think.

        There are the Brony “bros” then there are the people who disagree with feminism “bros”.

        I was aping the later in my post.

  7. I find it fascinating how the professional victim/grievance crowd continuously destroys its own credibility by attempting to make anything anyone does that they don’t like into their pet grievance. For instance, in this case, quoting someone becomes “engaging in violence”. To all but the most retarded, that’s absurd, and all it does is devalue any power “engaging in violence” has as a phrase. Calling sex that someone regrets the next day “rape” is another one. Or calling someone who dislikes Obama’s actions a “racist”.

    Their very greedy eagerness to be able to try and tar anything they don’t like with the most negative of brushes demolishes the very power of that brush. They do it to themselves. And they do it every time. It’s as if the kind of person who becomes a grievance-monger is constitutionally incapable of moderating their use of their grievance accusations.

    That’s a good thing, I suppose, but it’s still somewhat fascinating.

    1. I think it’s that they can only see things in stark black and white, so the nuclear option is the only option.

      And I think they get high off of feeling like the entire world is out to get them. Clearly there is some sort of sorting mechanism where certain ideologies attract certain personality disorders. The SJW set seems to have abnormally high levels of paranoid narcissists.

      Of course, a lot of libertarians seem to have some socialization issues, but it’s hard to pick that out from the same set of problems people who hang around on internet forums already have.

      1. I don’t know if it’s so much seeing things in black and white as much as sadistically wanting to crush anyone who displeases them in any way. There’s a word for this, and it’s “disproportionate”. Calling quoting someone “engaging in violence” is deliberately trying to bring the very negative connotation of violence to a clearly non-violent act. The only reason to do this is to tar the target of the accusation with a disproportionate implication. It’s completely overblown and can have very negative consequences for the target, but the accusers don’t care, and in fact will be happy if the target suffers because of it; they wouldn’t bother otherwise.

        It’s almost another form of sociopathy. They’re annoyed and lash out at the target of their anger with the biggest guns they have just because they can, with no thought whatsoever what effect that might have on the target, or whether it’s even close to appropriate in scale. They just don’t give a fuck.

        1. Spot on. There is a notable lack of empathy among the social justice crowd. Which is hilariously ironic.

          1. What’s also ironic is that these people are the ones who talk about “triggers” and feeling “unsafe” and shit, and they are the first people to lash out at anyone who even questions them with the nastiest attacks they can muster. Once again, a form of projection rules the day with them. They are everything they accuse everyone else of being.

            1. Um, no, you are.

              /working at a different level

    2. I think this comes down to a deep seated desire to live consequence free.

      I’ve been the victim of property crimes a few times. In every instance, I did something thoughtlessly that left me vulnerable to having someone swipe my stuff. Some incidents, like the time my bags were stolen from the baggage carousel because I checked them in two hours before my flight took off and they flew the Boston ahead of me, I didn’t foresee I was making a mistake but realized it only due to hindsight. Other incidents, I knew I was taking a risk, but did it anyway. And these incidents have made me more prudent, and I take steps to avoid being a victim.

      I think many members of the professional victimhood crowd react differently. Rather than trying to avoid being a victim by altering how they interact with the world, they want the world to be changed so that regardless of what they choose to do, they don’t end up as a victim.

      It’s rather childish when I consider it.

      1. Yes – because “SJWs” and “intersectional feminists” and the like are, in the main, damaged children. Even the ones well into middle-age.

        As in the Miss America kerfuffle today, they don’t want to accept that the world is flawed (there will _always_ be rapists) and that imperfect solutions (teaching a woman to prepare to use violence in her own defense) may yet be the best solution.

        They are committed to the childish notion that they are never the flawed ones, they are never in the wrong, they are the right-thinkers – it’s the _world_ that is broken and they and their gifts can, must and will fix it.

        So don’t teach women to defend themselves, “teach” men “not to rape.” Which, when run through the Prog-o-Tron, means an endless battle against whatever horseshit their faux-science comes up with to focus their perpetual adolescent rage. Probably “patriarchy” for this one. Whatever – we’ll tell you when it’s “okay” again, misogynist.

    3. What is odd is there are real rape victims. That one series of tweets about what the women were wearing when they were raped was heart wrenching.

      and yet the “victim/grievance crowd” actually designed their attacks to quiet those tweets.

      It is almost as if these idiots want real victims to be covered up and plastered over with their minor unjustified complaints about people saying mean things on the internet.

      1. Because real rape is so incredibly horrific that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

        There are lots of people doing the von Munchausen thing; they want to be treated nicely and with solicitude and pretending that they were the victim of rape is a great way to do that. Because who questions whether a victim was actually raped?

        1. Because who questions whether a victim was actually raped?

          Roman Polanski’s close and personal friends?

      2. Well, yes. Of course they want to cover up the real victims. The whole plague of “victim cache” rests on being able to paint yourself as a victim, and that’s hard to do when you’re not one. Especially if people can compare your “victimization” to someone who has actually gone through something horrible and see that your complaints are absurd.

        The victim cache crowd hates people who try to deny their victimization, and in a way, people who have actually had bad shit happen to them (I refuse to call them victims) deny the false “victimization” just by their very existence. So it’s not surprising that they are, in a way, either hated too or just pushed to the side and told to shut up.

  8. The main thrust of Frost’s piece seems to be that there’s a resurgent tendency to view data as suspect, and this stems from both anti-elitism and “the reduction of feminist critique to the Fear of The Bro and His Insidious Patriarchal Methodologies.”

    Did I just wake up from a very long and disappointing dream, to find myself back in the 90s?

  9. If I spoke at a public panel, tacked a paper to a public bulletin board with my name on it, or stood ranting on a street corner, any of these statements could be quoted by journalists with legal impunity?and I highly doubt most people would find this ethically problematic, either.

    I believe you underestimate their delusion.

  10. Is it ethical to

    (1) intentionally spread something dramatically further, using her position as a journalist, when the journalist knows the individual does not want it to be spred dramatically further than normally happens?

    (2) additionally to (1) deliberately and explicitly pursue a design to cause harm to the individual?

    (3) to do so out of personal motives?

    1. Is the idea of “show, don’t tell (to)” relevant here?

    2. You put something out in public and it is fair game. Forever.

  11. I’d rather hire some guy who made a bad sandwich joke over a rabid feminist any day. People like you are why I stopped calling myself “Libertarian”.
    P.S., Make me a sandwich!

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