On Twitter and its lack of standards

I run a relatively decent sized online community based around Arsenal football club. It’s called Arseblog, and it’s been running as a website since 2002.

There is, it would be fair to say, robust discussion of the football team, and the language can, at times, be considered industrial. That’s ok, we’re all grown-ups, and some curse words never really did anyone any harm. We encourage debate and discussion. Football is a game of opinions and all that. It would be boring if everyone agreed, but those who do comment are expected to meet certain standards.

We have a comments policy that people must adhere to, and if they don’t, we can do two things.

1 – We can place all their comments in moderation until such time as they demonstrate their compliance (sometimes some innocent people get caught up in this, and it’s a bit frustrating but it’s unfortunately necessary).

2 – We ban them. No ifs, ands, or buts. They’re banned. Heroes style, forever and ever.

Let me give you a few examples of things that would get you banned:

Let’s say you threatened to rape someone. Banned.

If you used racist language towards someone. Banned.

If you thought espousing your Nazi sympathies was a good idea. Banned.

If you posted someone’s personal information on the site to goad others into bombarding them with hate. Banned.

If you were homophobic. Banned.

If you’re sexist. Banned.

If you post spam or are some kind of bot. Banned.

If you use the site to threaten people with harm, especially me. Banned.

If your hilarious username was something like ‘ifuckkids9845484’. Banned.

If you’re not interested in discussion, but only to wind people up or troll. Banned.

Now, if it sounds like it’s a constant bombardment of these kind of people, it’s not. They are very rare on Arseblog because I don’t think we attract those kind of people in general, but also because we have standards and we implement and maintain them rigorously.

Now, we use Twitter every day too. It’s an important tool for the website, both as a source of a news and a way of getting our own stories out there and engaging with the readers.

Even if football Twitter, and Arsenal Twitter can get a bit mad at times, we don’t get exposed to the worst of the platform, but you don’t have to scratch the surface too far to see what lies underneath. And all of the things listed above that get you banned from Arseblog on a permanent basis go unpunished all the time on Twitter.

People are threatened and abused on a daily basis, and there are countless examples of users reporting obvious racism or other harmful messages and being told the Terms of Service have not been violated. A woman who is fearlessly exposing sexual predators and rapists is suspended, while a man who has openly admitted to sexually assaulting women and has the highest political office can threaten a country with nuclear annihilation with impunity.

The only conclusion we can take from that is that despite what they might say about safety, violations of their TOS and everything else, Twitter has no commitment to maintaining any standards when it comes to their platform.

They pay lip-service to it, because they have to be seen to do that, but they’re not serious about it. If they were, there’s a lot they could do, you know, like banning people forever and ever, but they don’t. Their desperation for active users breeds an increasingly nasty environment, and one that will ultimately be counter-productive.

You wouldn’t choose to go into a bar full of hateful racists and Nazis, so why would you choose to spend your time online in such close proximity to those kind of people? More and more it becomes a beacon for the lowest common denominator online (and that’s pretty fucking low), while I’ve witnessed a rise in previously regular users drifting away or disappearing altogether

If I allowed sexism, racism, homophobia and other prejudiced, bigoted hate on Arseblog, it would be a reflection of my site and who I am as a person.

So, as Twitter continues to willfully and deliberately ignore the problems that people have been openly discussing and flagging to them for a long time now, it tells us a lot about who they are, and the kind of service they’re happy to stand over. There are still great things about it, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore what’s bad.

You reap what you sow, and Twitter’s refusal to apply standards which should be obvious to everyone will be its downfall unless they act quickly and decisively.

Even then it might already be too late.

Second Captains and what is the value of a fiver?

I have been delighted to see the response to Second Captains decision to move away from the sponsorship/advertising model, to content that’s paid for by the people who consume it.

Whether that was their plan all along is another question. Quite why the Irish Times didn’t want to continue with what was clearly the most best and most popular ‘Irish’ podcast begs questions of their digital strategy, but that’s really beside the point.

Full disclosure at this point: I know the Second Captains chaps some, I’ve appeared on the podcast, I enjoy what they do, and they’re all sound blokes.

As someone who started podcasting on arseblog.com in 2006, and who only really started making any money from it in the last 12-18 months, it’s great to see that fans of shows are willing to support that show financially.

Not simply because it allows Second Captains to continue and add to their already excellent work, but because it shows that the line between the money you have in your pocket and the money you spend online is closing.

€5 a month is not very much at all, but the Internet as most of us have known it has been based on an everything for free model. We have become so accustomed to getting everything for nothing that being asked to pay for anything becomes anathema.

In recent years that has changed somewhat. The success of iTunes came at the expense of the free download Napster etc model which many had grown used to. Apple made it simple and easy to buy music, so people did.

Movies and TV shows are still downloaded via Torrents and file-sharing sites, but the advent of Netflix and other streaming services mean that the average person will choose the convenience of that over downloads, RAR files, and all the rest.

When it comes to written content, and podcasts through, we’re still not quite there. Having run Arseblog for 15 years, it’d be fair to say that by any normal standards our business model is pretty rubbish. We make content seven days a week then give it away for free – although it is, of course, ad supported.

That means writing a 1000 word blog seven days a week, 365 days a year (that’s about four novels worth of writing each year from the blog alone). That’s match previews, match reports, stats, player ratings, news, transfer gossip, focus on the youth and ladies teams, columnists, opinion, tactics, analysis, interviews, and everything else distributed via our website, social media or our apps. All free, all the time.

And if we decided tomorrow to go behind a paywall, a lot of our audience would probably not come with us. Not because they don’t like us, but because there’s still so much other free stuff out there to fill the gap. Yet, with the increase in ad-blocking technology – in part fueled by advertisers who resort to more and more nefarious methods to counter ads that are already being blocked – we may have no choice in the future.

We have strict guidelines about the kind of advertising we run on the site, to ensure that readers are not inconvenienced or annoyed. These include:

  • No pop-ups
  • No pop-unders
  • No auto-play videos
  • No interstitials
  • No ads that obscure content in anyway
  • No full site takeovers
  • No native advertising/branded content

That really just leaves us with basic display advertising*, and we do urge readers who use an ad-blocker to whitelist us if they can, but we’re aware that for many the only good ad is an ad you can’t see.

My prediction is that blocking will become more and more commonplace, and ultimately the only way forward will be some kind of subscription based model. That’s why it’s encouraging see to Second Captains get the support their content merits. The challenge for other small/niche publishers, is to ensure that readers/listeners etc can see the value in that support.

I recently gave a talk in DIT about web publishing etc, and when I asked for a show of hands from people who had a favourite website/blog/podcast, it included pretty much everybody in the lecture. When I asked how many people would be willing to pay a monthly subscription of €5 for the same content, I’d estimate there were 15-20% of the hands left in the air.

I then asked how many people had bought a coffee that day. 80% of the hands went up. How many would buy a coffee tomorrow? 70%. How many bought a coffee every day? 50-60%.

So I did some maths for them – let’s say a coffee is €2.50, you’re spending €12.5o a week on that, maybe €30-50 a month in total. You don’t notice that money going out of your pocket on a daily basis because you’re spending small increments, so in that context a fiver for a website you love isn’t outrageous by any means.

Quite a few said they’d never thought about it like that. Spending €5 in the ‘real’ world is easy, but people seem to consider that a lot of online money, even if it’s going towards something they consume every day.

€5

It’s less than a pint of beer. It’s half the price of a packet of cigarettes (for those of you still on 20 a day you’re spending €300+ a month on that, what’s €5 in the grand scheme of things?!). A burrito is more expensive. You can barely get a sandwich. Some bottles of craft beer in the supermarket are almost a fiver. A bus journey in and out of town. A cinema ticket for two hours entertainment costs €10+, so what’s half that for seven days a week of well produced content about a thing you love?

There are countless things that you spend more on every week without even thinking about it, so if more people applied to same standards to what they’re willing to spend online it would change the landscape considerably.

Two final points.

1 -* We do events, publish books etc, so advertising is not the only income source, but it is the primary one.

2 – The most obvious consequence of the Second Captains move to Patreon for me isn’t simply that people are willing to pay, it’s that it has enabled them to produce more interesting and varied content than they did previously. So people are getting value for their money and also enabling talented people to give them more for it.

AM15.03.2017

ps – I know the coffee thing is a bit worn now, but it really is a great example of something people spend money on every day without much consideration.

David Bowie LPs 1967 – 2016 playlist

On Monday night I did a live Mixlr show, playing a song from almost every David Bowie studio album. I just chose one from Tin Machine, and rather oddly forgot to play the song from Outside that I had prepared, but there’s a favourite or a classic from each album he made, and some info/waffle between songs, as a tribute a man whose music played such a big part in my life.

You can listen back to it here, and the playlist is below.

David Bowie LPs 1967 – 2016 playlist

1967London BoysDavid Bowie

1969Wild eyed boy from Freecloud Space Oddity

1970Black Country RockThe man who sold the world

1971Queen BitchHunky Dory

1972Moonage DaydreamThe rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

1973Lady Grinning Soul Aladdin Sane

1974Rock and Roll with meDiamond Dogs

1975FascinationYoung Americans

1976Wild is the windStation to Station

1977Always crashing in the same carLow

1977HeroesHeroes

1979Look back in angerLodger

1980Ashes to AshesScary monsters (and super creeps)

1983Cat people (putting out fire)Let’s dance

1984Blue JeanTonight

1987Time will crawlNever let me down

1989Under the god Tin Machine

1993Nite flightsBlack tie, white noise

1997I’m afraid of AmericansEarthling

1999Thursday’s childHours

2002SundayHeathen

2003DaysReality

2011In the heat of the morningToy

2011Conversation piece – Toy

2013The stars are out tonightThe next day

2016LazarusBlackstar

And the stars look very different today … farewell Major Tom.

CONTACT ME

If you think we can work together, we probably can. Get in touch and let's talk about it. Fill out the form below or just email andrewmangan at gmail dot com.