I grew up in the Washington, DC area. It’s my home. Lest you’ve forgotten, I wanted to take this moment to remind you of the devastation that hit DC one year ago today: the 5.8 magnitude earthquake, a.k.a., the Big One.
Warning: These pictures are graphic.
Follow me on Twitter @RobertEBodine
H/t to @PropertyAtty for this post.
If you’re one of those people (i.e., if you’re a human being) that just glosses over the privacy settings for your social media platform, you might want to read US v. Meregildo, 11 Cr. 576 (WHP) (S.D.N.Y., Aug 10, 2012). Judge William H. Pauley III refused to suppress the government’s evidence obtained through viewing a Facebook profile. The “Memorandum & Order” is only four pages long (page five is a one-sentence conclusion), so you should click on the link above and read it.
The defendant, Melvin Colon, had a Facebook account, and he didn’t enable strict privacy settings. The result was that all of Colon’s “Facebook ‘friends’ [could] view a list of all of [Colon’s] other Facebook ‘friends,’ as well as messages and photographs that Colon and others posted to Colon’s profile.” One of Colon’s Facebook friends (“witness”) decided to cooperate with the police and allow them to view the contents of the witness’s account, which included a lot of information from Colon’s account due to Colon’s settings. As a result, the police learned that “Colon posted messages regarding prior acts of violence, threatened new violence to rival gang members, and sought to maintain the loyalties of other alleged members of Colon’s gang.” This formed the basis of probable cause, and a magistrate granted the search warrant.
The Court’s Analysis
The court noted that while people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home computers, they lose it when they transmit information over the Internet or by e-mail (citing United States v. Lifshitz, 369 F.3d 173, 190 (2d Cir. 2004); Guest v. Leis, 255 F.3d 325,333 (6th Cir. 2001)). If Colon had adjusted his privacy settings to restrict public access to the information, he might have had an argument under the Fourth Amendment (i.e., a “reasonable expectation of privacy), but because he “disseminate[d] his postings and information to the public, they are not protected by the Fourth Amendment.”
Presumably because of the use of technology, the court analogized this to allowing the government to listen in on a phone conversation when the person on the other end of the telephone line consents to the call, which was allowed in United States v. Barone, 913 F.2d 46,49 (2d Cir. 1990), but in my opinion, that’s not even the strongest analogy available because the audio from phone calls aren’t available to the entire public. This is probably an even easier case than that (though I haven’t read Barone in about a decade). Posting publicly to Facebook is more like placing an announcement on an electronic billboard on interstate highway I-95. It’s using technology, and it’s a public announcement. To be honest, though, I feel the use of technology is a red herring here anyway, as this is really no different than the police simply talking to the witness and asking, “What do you know?” If the witness has incriminating information, then the police are just doing good police work to get it. Regardless of where the best analogy lies, the point is that this is an easy case.
There are two important caveats to this analysis. First, this was a district court case in New York and thus doesn’t apply to you unless you live in that district. However, I fully expect this to be how most courts rule on this issue, and even if you don’t agree with that prediction, you must recognize that there’s a danger that your district court judge will rule this way. Second, it’s important to note that the Court recognized there could exist theoretical fact patterns that made the government’s actions illegal. The point was simply that law enforcement going through public Facebook data shared on the internet voluntarily is not, in and of itself, inappropriate.
What Should We Have Learned?
For me, the moral of this story is broader than criminal law. Neither the judicial courts nor the court of public opinion will allow you to be as lazy or stupid as you think you have a right to be. If you don’t read the fine print or take the time to protect your information, you have no right to complain when it’s made public. If you insist on engaging in social media, you have two choices, and both require a modest work ethic and moderate amount of intelligence:
- Restrict access to your Facebook information to people you’ve already “friended,” and “friend” (as a verb) only people you actually know; or
- Watch what you post (i.e., always asked yourself whether what you’re posting could be embarrassing, controversial, or incriminating), and use “lists” to restrict certain information to a limited viewing audience.
If that’s too hard, delete your account(s) or accept the consequences. Ignore Meregildo at your own peril.
I just had a conversation with someone on Google+ (“Isaac”), after which he blocked me. His initial post was a forward from someone else, on which Isaac commented that he agreed with everything in the original post. The post misrepresented the role of the executive branch of government, which I corrected, and called all Republicans racist, which I condemned. I pointed out the inaccuracy and the destructive nature of the name-calling. His initial response was to change the subject, and when I called him out for that, he resorted to more name-calling, characterizing me as unwilling to approach a debate with an open mind so that, ironically, he wouldn’t have to do so himself.
Normally, I’d let this go, but I’ve effectively dedicated this blog to criticizing our process of political and social discourse, and Issac is clearly part of the problem, being unable to separate his emotions from discussing important issues that require level-headed, logical discussion. Also, I don’t believe that I handled it much better than he did. I’m not one to go so far as to defame others, so instead I’ll just provide direct copies of his posts. (That is, these are his exact words, so I can’t be accused of claiming he said something he didn’t.) Unfortunately, my responses will have to be from memory because they were deleted when I was blocked. (His responses are in my Outlook inbox, so they’re verbatim.) As always, form your own opinions, but remember, your substantive viewpoints on the issues shouldn’t factor into who was being unreasonable and destructive. This is a matter of procedure. That is, it’s a question of how we treat others with whom we disagree. Mere disagreement isn’t mistreatment, especially if you invited that disagreement.
Romney, as president, will destroy our economy because he’s out of touch, and all Republicans are racist or are racist-enablers.
(Sadly, not as much a paraphrase as you might think.)
The chief executive has little influence on the economy. The budget is a creature of legislation, so when a presidential candidate discuss the economy, he’s largely preying on the ignorance of the average voter. Of course, the original poster doesn’t care about that, as he makes a blanket statement of racism against all Republicans, thus proving he’s interested in inflaming the reader rather than forming a logical argument. #YouArePartOfTheProblem
So, Robert — any thoughts on how the insane Hijacked-By-The-Tea-Party congress is refusing to pass any of the proposed job legislation, not to mention costing America BILLIONS by refusing to vote on the debt ceiling and thus damaging America’s credit standing internationally?
So, Isaac, is your changing of the subject an admission that you were wrong for (implicitly) calling all Republicans racist and mischaracterizing the role of the president in the economy?
Not at all. You’re claiming that it’s all about Congress, so I’m pointing out that Congress is VERY MUCH a problem right now, refusing to pass legislation that would improve this country, because they think it’ll score them points. That’s not changing the subject, that’s answering an assertion you raised. For the record, I strongly doubt that you and I will be able to have a meaningful political discussion or find much common ground, based on what you’ve said so far, but I’m willing to attempt [snipped by inbox, but it's something like this: "if you are."]
You start by calling me a racist even though you don’t know me and have never had a conversation with me. You then claim you’re not changing the subject when it’s clear to anyone who might read this that you are.You’re right that we’ll never have a meaningful political discussion, but don’t kid yourself. That’s entirely your fault.
…And blocked. Thank you for playing, and take your trolling elsewhere. I mean, why would someone even go post on a stranger’s feed like this? Ah well.
I’m sticking to my guns here substantively speaking, because calling me a racist by association without knowing me is more akin to trolling than me saying he was wrong for doing so in the first place. Also, if he doesn’t want people to respond to his posts, but posts to a medium in which commenting is the norm, that’s his own fault. However, did I handle this well?
Ummmm . . . Nope.
I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with other people simply because they have differing viewpoints from me. Seriously, I seek out those people so I can broaden my horizons. These are difficult issues, and not everyone can be a constitutional scholar, economist, or lawmaker, which is why our democracy is “representative.” We pay people to figure out the details. We’re all doing the best we can with these issues, so there’s no reason to hate each other over differing views. Isaac unfortunately prejudges all Republican strangers, ascribing negative characteristics to them simply on the basis of differing views on issues most of us don’t fully understand anyway. That’s the real problem we face. It stifles compromise and agreement, and by extension, progress.
Perhaps I should have engaged Isaac on the issue he raised (i.e., the debt ceiling) just to keep a dialogue going and show him that I’m not a twisted, evil racist simply because of the letter appearing next to my name on my voter ID card (which, by the way, requires a driver’s license or birth certificate to obtain). While it was clear he was looking for only inflammatory, Republican-hating dialogue, it’s possible for people to wise up. After all, every one of us has friends with opposing views, and while we strongly disagree with them, we don’t hate them. They’re our friends after all. The problem with social media is that we can dehumanize our sociopolitical opponents, thinking of them as faceless, nameless [insert profane noun of choice here] that are hateful, stupid, and willfully uninformed. My response to his concern about the debt ceiling might have actually surprised him, and maybe he would have softened his stance and given me a listen because I am far from a political shill, relating much more with Libertarians than I do with Republicans (politically-speaking). I don’t know if it would have worked, but if I don’t know, I should give it a try, right?
And that’s been one of my points throughout these articles. Sometimes the burden is on those who “get it” to go a little farther towards getting others on board. When someone responds to my posts with a hateful tone (or at least with one I interpret to be hateful), I generally preface my own reply with a “thank you for commenting” or something like that. I’m under no obligation to do so, but if it prevents misunderstandings all too common among online communications, why wouldn’t I? I firmly believe that Isaac was in the wrong here, so this post probably reads a bit elitist, but I know that I probably could have done more to get him on the right side. By that, of course, I mean the correct side. Like everyone else, I’m sure Isaac is trying to make America better. That’s the goal of almost all of us, regardless of our beliefs as to how better to accomplish that goal. It’s the thought that counts, right? I’m sure his heart is in the right place.
Hopefully, it’s a lesson learned, which is another one of my points. It’s hard to get it right, and it’s easy to slip back into your old ways. We must always pay attention to how we ourselves behave, not reacting insecurely when we screw up. Mistakes can be a tremendously valuable learning tool, but we can’t learn from them if we don’t first acknowledge them.
Unfortunately, though I’m blocked, I still receive updates from Isaac’s thread, and it appears that he hasn’t learned a thing. I get only bits and pieces of the conversation, but it appears he’s having his behavior validated by people who support him simply because they agree with him substantively, without any regard for reading what I actually wrote.
A Parting Note on Racism
Because it’s in play, I want to add some brief thoughts on racism in this country.
Why is the Tea Party’s racist sign (Obama as a Kenyan Prince) the only one ever shown in news reports? Is it because it’s the only one that was ever made? I’m sure there were at least some others, but it’s interesting that there don’t appear to be any, suggesting that it’s being inflated by those members of the media (certainly a majority) that oppose the right. Racism is far from dead in this country, but it cuts across party lines. In any case, accusing all Republicans (or even just all Tea Party Republicans) of being racist is just inflammatory garbage that causes more problems than it could ever solve. Give it a rest.
Just my thoughts. YMMV.
That’s right. These “Reddies” can kiss my ass.
I’m not stupid. I know you’re all laughing at me, but the next thing you know, these Reddies are going to want to get married. Then you’ll see. You’ll *all* see.
You know, the name of this blog is ”Rob’s Blog of Controversy,” right?
Follow me on Twitter @RobertEBodine
Seriously. I’ve hated cheese my entire life. Can’t stand it. Cheddar cheese, American cheese, and Swiss cheese make me gag. While there’s almost certainly a psychological dimension to my hatred of cheese – I like Italian food even with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese – it’s also based on flavor to some extent, so I really can’t help it.
I was eating lunch with someone and ordered a turkey club. I specifically said, “No cheese,” but as is often the case, my sandwich came back with cheese (stupid restaurants). I removed the bright yellow American cheese, then started eating. I couldn’t figure out why this ordinary turkey club tasted so bad. I assumed the meat was rotten and stopped eating it. When I saw that some of the turkey looked funny, I initially thought my suspicion of bad meat was confirmed. Then I investigated more deeply and learned that the discolored turkey was Swiss cheese. A-ha! Once it was removed, I was happy.
The person with whom I was eating was eating a sandwich with cheese. It was too much for me to handle. How could she justify her love of cheese? I don’t like it. In fact, it makes me physically sick to eat it, so her eating of cheese is an abomination. Why? Because that’s how I feel, and that’s what matters. I hope she eventually pays for her crime against humanity by being thrown in a bonfire.
Three questions for the peanut gallery:
- Am I a bad person for hating cheese?
- Assuming the answer is no, am I therefore necessarily correct that you should suffer dire consequences for eating cheese yourself?
- Again, assuming the answer is no, am I a bad person for hating those that eat cheese (because they eat cheese)?
I also prefer chicken bits to chicken wings. I don’t eat bones. I also think it’s gross to eat the fat, and you’re an evil person if you do.
Follow me on Twitter @RobertEBodine
Edit: I wrote this post when I was in a hurry and very frustrated. I had to post it because I knew I’d be thinking about it all night if I hadn’t posted it when I did, and I couldn’t afford the distraction. My mention of the Free Speech clause, while an important point, is not the focus of this article. If included, it should have been treated as an aside. Also, as I did mention below, my substantive position on gay marriage isn’t at issue here either. This has to do with how we treat each other.
Okay, let’s do this thing. The following image is circulating Facebook, Google +, and I assume other forms of social media, and it’s an example of what’s wrong with our political discourse.
And the statistical basis for this statement is what?
I’ve been to homeless shelters, drug rehab centers, etc., though I admit I’m not a regular visitor. They’re usually packed with Christian workers. How could they not be considering that Christianity represents such an overwhelming segment of the population? This is rhetorical, inflammatory, destructive nonsense, and if you’re sharing it, #YouArePartOfTheProblem. Why?
1. There are plenty of Christians that support gay marriage.
2. There are plenty of Christians that have founded, managed, and contributed to homeless shelters.
I can’t believe I have to explain that, but here’s what kills me: Some of you that support gay marriage don’t care that you’re assisting in a broad attack against an entire faith with a long history of, as the bottom part of the message suggests, helping the homeless and otherwise needy. Your only concern is shutting down unfavorable free speech through market power, and you’re doing it without looking before you leap. Some of you probably don’t care even if you’re a member of that group, most likely rationalizing it as “attacking right-wing Christians, because we all know the’re assholes.” Even if that message were constructive and appropriate — it sure as $h!+ isn’t — it isn’t the message being delivered.
If you really cherished free speech, you’d encourage it from everyone (much like we encourage everyone to vote without concern for how those you inspire would actually vote). If you really were convinced you were correct, you wouldn’t be so insecure about hearing the other side has to say. And if you behaved like adults, you wouldn’t make such inappropriate statements because you’d be thinking before you spoke (or shared) a hateful message. The Free Speech Clause shouldn’t simply be a legal provision; it should be a part of our cultural identity. Horrible mistakes like this occur because it isn’t.
How ironic this is all being done in the interests of stopping hate, huh?
If you’ve shared this image, then you’ve made a statement, and I’ve called you out for it, attacking the message itself. Please respond with a logical explanation as to how the circulation of this image is going to help our society. I’m listening. Until I hear some logic, though, I’m going to say that #YouArePartOfTheProblem.
Please note that if you respond with a substantive argument as to why the views of the Chick-Fil-A representative was wrong and “gay marriage” is a great and wonderful thing, you’re completely missing the point of this post. Similarly, if you think I’m being insecure myself because I’m a Christian, not only are you wrong (I’m an agnostic), but you’re also creating a smoke screen of name-calling so that you don’t have to apply sound logic, and if so, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Follow me on Twitter @RobertEBodine
Recently, I performed some small experiments via social media, hoping people would bite. They did. It confirmed the existence of a frustrating phenomenon about which I’ve been complaining for some time, though I haven’t quite articulated clearly to my readers (both of you).
No one cares about anything that follows the word, “because.”
Because . . .
Still with me? Good. I’m glad at least you care, but you’re the exception, not the rule.
I won’t link to my experiments. I don’t think it’s fair to call out people unless they’re in a position to defend themselves, and by assumption, they aren’t here to defend themselves. You’ll have to take my word for it, which I’m sure you’ll do . . . until I tell you that people on your side did it also. Generally, what I did was write a short statement of opinion, but in the tradition of legal writing, I started with my conclusion. That is, I might say something like:
I believe the death penalty is a constitutional form of punishment. . .
I then immediately follow the statement with either some logic or, in the case of the failed experiment of this post***, some nonsense, such as:
. . . because I like to soak my feet in orange juice. It feels like grapeade. Peace out.
*** The experiment didn’t yield any results, but not surprisingly, on the same day I published it I received results from a different post that wasn’t even controversial. It never freaking stops!
The point was to show that, once people know that you disagree with them, they stop reading because they’ve already assumed you’re wrong. Why? Because they couldn’t possibly be wrong. Their fragile egos can’t handle that possibility. This is consistent with a lot of my pre-experiment experiences, including many of my real articles on this blog. Many people criticize or compliment my articles (or even single, short paragraphs) without reading them in full, and it’s obvious when that happens. They make arguments that I’ve already addressed, meaning that they’re actually not addressing my points. My opinions could be wrong, but I wouldn’t know it because they’re arguing points I’ve already, in my mind, proved wrong.
This is, in part, a consequence of what’s called the “argumentative theory of reasoning.” In short, we argue to win rather than to learn. As a result, the reasoning behind our arguing is irrelevant to both ourselves and those with whom we’re arguing. This can have tremendous value to a very primitive society, but so can infanticide. On the other hand, this is a plague on intelligent society (as is infanticide, but that’s not my point). Whenever we make a simple statement, and certainly when I write one of my far-too-long articles, people ignore everything we say after “because,” which in my case means everything after my first sentence. In news channel interviews, the moderator might force the arguers to be polite, but you can always see the arguers’ eyes glazing over as they shake their heads side-to-side as if to say, “No; you’re an idiot,” before even a tenth of the argument has been made. This isn’t anticipation of the full argument but rather stubbornly refusing to hear the other side.
Guess who’s really the idiot?
Probably all of them.
But It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This
This type of stubbornness can be a very effective tool when you’re conscious of it. When I was in law school, I was known among my study groups for saying some pretty whacky things. For example, I once told some friends, “I’m a moral relativist, and I believe child molestation is okay. Why am I wrong?” Most people, including those friends, are extremely annoyed by such exercises, but this was law school. This was why we were all there. They had to take interest in the debate. Chicago-Kent is a private school, so we were paying $25,000 a year for the privilege to put up with nuts like me.
I was doing the whole, “I’m going to win this argument at all costs,” thing, but I was aware that I was doing it. I was using my instinct (enhanced by the fact that I was raised in the Washington, DC area) as a tool to challenge myself. I’d paint myself into an intellectual corner and have to fight my way out. I’d even take points of view with which I disagreed (obviously). Really, isn’t that what lawyers are supposed to do? For all I knew, I had a bright future in defending child molesters.
So, even in our modern civilization, this characteristic isn’t necessarily bad, so long as we’re aware of it and deal with it. It actually encourages us to address issues we might otherwise ignore until we’re forced to by some whacko. (If caught off guard, we might lose the argument, and he might not be discouraged from going a-diddling at the playground.) If you really want to learn, though, you need to be brutally honest with yourself when your insecurities cause you to lose touch with reason. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I hadn’t considered that. I don’t like it, but I can’t refute it. Call me tomorrow and I’ll try again to kick your ass.” There’s also nothing wrong with asking questions. No one – not even experts – knows everything, and it’s rare indeed for two people with exactly the same amount of knowledge on a subject to come together and argue. In most arguments, sooner or later, someone’s going to have to fall into the role of student, and if the topic is particularly complex (like almost all we’re discussing nowadays), both arguers might find themselves switching back and forth into that role. It might help if you’d recognize that for some issues there’s no objectively correct answer, so technically, it’s possible that neither of us are truly wrong.
Trying to win should be the means. Finding the truth should be the goal.
But in the End, Most People Are Dicks
Unfortunately, most people gladly succumb to their insecurities. It’s so much easier than the alternative, which involves listening to what we don’t want to hear. Accordingly, most people I know will not have made it past the title of this (or any) article, so they’ll continue the pattern of unproductive discourse that plagues our political debate. They’ll continue to polarize around political parties, because it’s easier to follow an ordered set of opinions that it is to formulate your own. They’ll continue to hurl personal insults rather than think about what the other person has said. They’ll continue to speak in snarky generalities, oversimplifications, or metaphors designed to attribute extreme views to the other person in order to characterize them as a nuts, thus justifying their own refusal to listen.
This isn’t something I’m making up. Ask a psychologist if you must – they’ll confirm it – but you know damn well from your own experiences that it’s true. You’ve all felt that mix of anger and fear whenever you’ve felt cornered intellectually. Why? What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll tell you: You might learn something you didn’t know. Why is that such a bad thing?
A Solution That Won’t Work
Despite my lack of faith in people, I’d like to see everyone start using the hashtag, #yourepartoftheproblem. I want you to use it even on Facebook, which doesn’t recognize hashtags, because, after all, it won’t have much of an effect even on platforms that do recognize hashtags. Most people won’t care, remember? Like all hashtags, movements, or any mass effort of any kind, this can and eventually will be overrun by abusers, so let’s lay down some ground rules. Use the hashtag only when someone says/does:
1. “All [political label] party members are [insult].” If you believe that statement in any form, just close your browser window now. You’re beyond hope.
2. Criticizes you obviously after reading only enough of your written statement to deduce that you’re on the other side.
3. Resorts to snarky catch phrases that oversimplify the issue, and therefore put words into your mouth (but see B, below).
4. Uses the hashtag, #youarepartoftheproblem, simply because someone has a different opinion. If you see this, pull out the first three rules or the six that follow and demonstrate clearly why the person falls into that category.
As for you, make sure to obey these rules:
A. Don’t fall into the four traps above.
B. Don’t punish honest arguments simply because they’re simple. Use them as a starting point. Twitter gives us only 140 characters for our first statement, and even Facebook, Google+, and others are difficult media for real conversation. Be patient and ask for clarification of points that seem strange to you rather than assume their meant to insult you or support an insane position.
C. Don’t punish someone because they don’t communicate well through writing. It’s not as if online posts are interpreted properly as a rule.
D. Don’t hold information hostage. Keeping people in the dark is a sure sign that you’re not secure in your position, which means there’s a need to address it.
E. Don’t use information as a tool to belittle others. You’re not better than anyone else, even if you know more. Besides, sometimes experts lose the forest for the trees.
F. Don’t think of yourself as an adversary. Think of yourself as a teacher and a student. Those are the people who seek the truth.
G. Stop using #youarepartoftheproblem when it gets hijacked by those who are part of the problem.
You have to police yourselves carefully here. It’s very easy to fall into category 4 or to violate any of the rules from the second list. In part, that’s because the root of our political differences isn’t something as high level as where you stand on the death penalty, environmentalism, campaign finance reform, or stricter immigration rules. Those issues are completely unrelated, and from the most simplistic viewpoint, there are 24 different sets of views you can have on just those four (e.g., “pro-pro-pro-pro,” “pro-pro-pro-con,” “pro-pro-con-con,” and so on). Yet a large majority of Americans seem to fall into one of only two sets of views on these issues: “pro-con-con-pro” and “con-pro-pro-con.” Doesn’t that seem odd?
The ties that bind our viewpoints on unrelated issues run much more deeply than the particular political issues themselves. Our views are based on very low-level assumptions on the role of government and our obligations to each other (i.e., the “social contract”). These assumptions are so ingrained in our thinking that, for most, they’ve probably been relegated to our subconscious. This would explain why at times we can’t imagine how the other side can see things their way, and we never seem to gain any ground with each other. It has less to do with the issue, and more to do with a deep, broad concept we seldom give any thought. (This also explains why, in my anecdotal experience, I’ve never known someone to go to law school, learn the details and history of the law, and change their political stances once they graduate. Everyone stays the same, politically speaking. They just learn better arguments.)
Here’s a crude and poor example, but it illustrates the point. Pro-life citizens believe that a fetus is a human being no different from you and I, and as such is deserving of the same constitutional protections as you and I. Pro-choice citizens believe the fetus is not a human being with the same access to rights as you and I (though there are multiple ways in which pro-choice citizens will characterize the fetus’s “nature”). If you’re arguing any other issue, you’re actually not arguing with one another, and that’s by design. If you assume that the other side is making the same assumption as you, you can paint them as a monster (i.e., a baby-killer or someone attempting to lower women to a social caste at the same level as the family pet). None of us are trying to do either, and if you put aside your anger and insecurity for just a second, you’d realize that.
Would we all then see eye-to-eye? No, especially not on this particular example issue, and thus the losing side in the argument (at this moment, the pro-life movement) would see the result as an atrocity needing correction. However, for most issues, empathy leads to honest discussion, and honest discussion leads to an agreeable compromise (or dare I say agreement!). Uncivil discourse prevents this from ever happening.
If anything can change human behavior, it won’t be a long-winded post on this obscure, seldom-read blog, but this article shouldn’t be seen as an attack against its readers. Everyone acts this way at times. I still won’t have discussions on the Second Amendment because I don’t trust my ability to approach it rationally. This doesn’t mean I can’t do better. I just need to try. If I do, success is inevitable, but success can be fleeting. It can be lost if I don’t stay vigilant. Also, there’s nothing wrong with honest disagreement. We can have strongly held views. This article isn’t about whether you’re substantively right or wrong. It’s about how you treat other people. It’s about the procedure you take when arguing with them.
Unfortunately, I have little faith in humanity in general, but I believe an asteroid will kill us all before we do it ourselves, so maybe this article was a waste of time. If so, I apologize.
I often rail against the American attitude of “entitlement,” but to my recollection, I’ve never written about here, so I’m going to define what I mean by that. Americans seem to think they’re “entitled.” You should be asking, “Entitled to what?” This seems like a fair question, but considering this phenomenon originates from unfairness, the question is actaully irrelevant. Americans don’t think they’re entitled to this or that, but rather to everything. We selfishly think we’re entitled to whatever we want, even if it creates a logical paradox by taking away from others, and if we don’t get it, we sue, threaten advertisers, call for boycotts, etc. That is, we think nothing of ruining the livelihood of others simply because they aren’t handing us exactly what we want. In fact, it’s not enough to leave us alone and say nothing. Society owes us a constant flood of telling us we look pretty. The second you don’t tell me how great I am, I call a lawyer.
In short, we’re dicks.
Enter Wheaton’s Law
For those that don’t know, Wil Wheaton is a celebrity with a special place in the table-top gaming community, first for starring as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and second, for publicizing his love of table-top gaming (in particular, role-playing gaming). He now has a recurring role as himself on the CBS comedy, the Big Bang Theory, which is about a bunch of nerdy physicist/gamers pining over a sexy female neighbor. He’s apparently made a lot of money in the process, too. Simply put, he’s a rich and famous geek. That’s important. Wil Wheaton is a rich and famous geek. Keep a hold of that fact until I get to the end.
Because there are a lot of “rules lawyers” in gaming, he started using the phrase, “Don’t be a dick,” which then came to be known as Wheaton’s Law (although I don’t believe he actually coined it). As a celebrity, it gained quite a bit of traction, especially, though probably not exclusively, in the gaming community. Although I’m involved in this community, both personally and professionally, I’ve never been one to care about celebrity. I’m from the Washington, DC area, so I’ve been around the worst kind of celebrities (i.e., politicians) my entire life, having served as campaign manager for a statewide campaign in Delaware as recently as 2008. I know celebrities are nothing special, so I’m immune to the charm inherent in their celebrity and have no problem calling out celebrities when they act like dicks. Of course, I don’t often feel inspired to do so, but here Wheaton’s statements are part of a larger problem, so here it goes, and you’re going to read it.
You see, celebrity works both ways. He can use it to get his message out there, and I can use it to point out how selfish and hypocritical it is. That’s the price of your celebrity, Wil.
Wheaton Is Being a Dick
Wheaton recently posted the following to Tumbler (last visited, May 1, 2012, 6:35pm):
Oh, go fuck yourself, Google. This is just as bad as companies forcing me to “like” something on Facebook before I can view whatever it is they want me to “like.”
Just let me thumbs up something, without forcing me to “upgrade” to G+, you dickheads.
The worst part of this? For a producer like me, I’m going to lose a crapton of potential upvotes for Tabletop, because the core of my audience is tech-savvy and may not want to “upgrade” to yet another fucking social network they don’t want or need.
Classy isn’t it? But let’s not get off track.
Wheaton’s implicit demand from this phrase is “dickish” on many levels. First, he seems to think that Google has created, at great expense, this marvelous technical platform for the purpose of providing Wil Wheaton with free marketing data. Specifically, “a producer like me, I’m going to lose a crapton of potential upvotes for Tabletop,” suggests that those upvotes spontaneously formed in the vacuum of space. They didn’t. They were generously created for him (and all of us) by Google free of charge with only the slight burden of having his users register (free of charge!) for the service (thus generating advertising revenue that pays for their development). Now he wants more, but is unwilling to submit his users to Google’s [sarcasm]draconian[/sarcasm] requirements of user registration. Did I mention this registration is free?
Oh, but It Gets Worse
As to these additional hits Wheaton would generate if registration weren’t required, what would they represent? One thing that gives Facebook “likes” and Google+ “+1s” the illusion of a legitimate scientific exercise is that registration is required before you can “like” or “+1” something. It’s relatively unlikely that someone would create 100 independent online personae, take the time to manage all of those accounts, and use them to record multiple votes for the things they like. It’s possible, but unlikely. In fact, to help reduce noise on Twitter, I have seven (7) different Twitter accounts dealing with different topics, but I assure you I’m far too lazy to register even 7 votes for things I like. I’m not going to waste time doing that. Just logging in an out of the accounts takes too much time to be worth it, even if I use auto-fill for the passwords. Everyone gets one vote from me, and I’m willing to bet good money that I represent the overwhelming majority of people for most situations.
What Wheaton wants is to give people the opportunity to vote multiple times without that annoying hassle. Therefore, it would take the average person, at 6 clicks per second, less than 17 seconds to record 100 votes for whatever Wheaton’s publishing. Put another way, what Wheaton actually wants is false data. He wants his X number of fans to record, let’s say, X * 100 votes, making his products, posts, etc. look more popular than they actually are.
At Google’s expense, of course.
Because otherwise, Google is a collection of “dickheads.”
Does that include the janitors that will lose their jobs if this “bad” press hurts Google? Are they dickheads, too? I’m pretty sure they’ll be the first to get trimmed, so I certainly hope so.
The Tipping Point: He’s a Rich Famous Geek
What really makes this infuriating is that, of all people to be expecting to receive free things, he’s one of the last that should. He’s, as some of you might say, one of the 1%. In fact, Wheaton has publicly supported the “Occupy” movements (last visited May 1, 2012, 6:47pm), and now he’s reminding us that he’s entitled to free stuff. Of course, that’s not enough. Neither he nor his adoring fans should have to pay for that stuff, they shouldn’t have to do any significant work to use that stuff, and by no means should there be the slightest protection from fraud in their use of that stuff.
Seriously, why doesn’t he just demand free money and sex for everyone?
Don’t Be A Dick!
Wil Wheaton is violating Wheaton’s Law. The question is whether you’ll be blinded by his celebrity, or your own selfish interest in obliging Google to bend to your will, and support him anyway. Based on your comments below his post, it certainly appears you’re going the route of kissing his ass, so I guess I have my answer.
Don’t be a dick . . . or a dick-enabler.
It’s been called to my attention that Wil Wheaton is not, in fact, “wealthy.” So, he’s not part of the 1%, either figuratively or literally. I want to make the following clear, however: The basis of my argument has always been that Wil Wheaton, in this instance, is acting like he’s entitled to something that he in fact isn’t. When he’s denied it, he cries like a baby and swears like a sailor. That isn’t significantly diminished by the fact that he isn’t rich. If that message wasn’t clear because of my use of the phrase, “tipping point,” then I apologize, but I stand by the accusation that Wil Wheaton is acting like a spoiled brat, and at his age, that means he’s acting like a dick, be it poor, wealthy, or of moderate financial means.
Moreover, as I said in the Google+ thread, I don’t hold anything against Wil. I just think he’s wrong here, and that this is part of a larger problem with American society.
EDIT #2: Post-Postscript
My friend, the scientist — well, one of them — pointed out that I’m wrong on the click counts, though I’m awaiting some answers to my follow-up questions on his comments. Briefly, he pointed out that, without registration, Wheaton’s product or service will appear more popular because it will result in more clicks, but so will everyone else’s product or service. So, the relative numbers will adjust, and we’ll still know which product or service is better liked. However, I believe that absolute numbers are far more important to advertising than relative numbers, so unless “the scientist” (he really is a professional scientist) comes back with an answer showing that it would be possible to adjust the absolute numbers, I still think my suspicions are correct. The people that crunch these numbers know their business, so it’s certainly possible, but regardless of which way that goes, it doesn’t affect my underlying technological argument: Without registration, Google’s advertising revenue will drop, and so it isn’t in their best interest (absent a third option) to compel registration. Accordingly, Wheaton is still acting like a dick for hurling profanities first, and providing constructive criticism sec… errrr, never.
Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.
Blogs I Follow
Calendar of Articles