UPDATED! Big Tech Bans Donald Trump (And Kent Bye Sounds a Warning)

I must confess that I haven’t been very active in social VR and virtual worlds this week, glued as I have been to the news media, Twitter, and Reddit, since Wednesday’s U.S. Capitol riot.

In the past 48 hours, many Big Tech companies have acted to ban or impose restrictions on Donald Trump’s accounts (a step which should have been taken long ago, in my opinion). In a deliciously ironic twist, even TikTok (a platform which Trump threatened to ban) has banned the soon-to-be-ex-president!

Notably, Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account, cutting him off from his millions of Twitter followers at the push of a button. When Trump tried to evade that by tweeting from other accounts, those were also quickly suspended.

My measured response to Trump’s comeuppance late Friday evening is best summarized by this five-second TikTok video someone tweeted:

Buh-bye, Donald Trump! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…

UPDATE 9:26 p.m.: The New York Times is reporting that three Big Tech companies have acted to take down a platform where many speculated Donald Trump would land up after being evicted from Twitter, the right-wing social media app Parler (original version of the NYT article; archived version). Yesterday, Google removed the Parler app from its Google Play store, and today Apple followed suit, removing Parler from the Apple app store. Apple’s and Google’s actions mean that users would have no way to install or update the Parler app on their mobile devices (although Android device users could theoretically still sideload the app). And later today, Amazon, bowing to pressure from its employees, decided to remove Parler from its web-hosting service, effectively crippling a service which had relied on Amazon Web Services to operate. It looks as though Parler is doomed; even more reason to rejoice!

However, Kent Bye sounds a cautionary note in this must-read thread of tweets, saying:

Centralized Big Tech platforms have been the defacto police of dangerous speech and harassment. They’ve historically done a terrible job reining it in (ask any woman, LGBTQ, BIPOC, etc). But it’s also a cultural issue not solvable via purely technological, deterministic means.

As soon as anti-democratic populists move to completely decentralized networks and encrypted, peer-to-peer communication networks, there isn’t going to be any technological deterministic “ban hammer” method of mitigating dangerous speech, aside from banning underlying peer-to-peer tech.

Again, I’d strongly urge you to read through his entire Twitter thread of reasoning. Kent argues that we are only seeing “the beginning of a new cycle of violence, and not the end”.

Pandemic Diary, November 22nd, 2020: Fuck You, Donald Trump

One of my quality-of-life metrics is the number of really good laugh-until-you-cry moments per year (obviously, they have been in rather short supply this year).

The health benefits of laughter are already well known:

Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.

Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Laughter burns calories. Okay, so it’s no replacement for going to the gym, but one study found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories—which could be enough to lose three or four pounds over the course of a year.

Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.

Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.

Yesterday evening, while scrolling through my Twitter feed and clicking on Twitter’s suggestions for trending topics, I chanced upon the following funny tweet by Brian Guest:

I filled out a Trump survey trashing him a week ago, and in the NAME field I put Fuck You as my name. Forgot about it. Then just got this email out of the blue. And I’ve never been more baffled or laughed as hard as I just have. I thought he emailed truly addressing me like this:

Brian followed up with:

For 10 minutess I stared at my phone in awe—thinking this crazy man just tried to connect with supporters by droppin F-bombs in a campaign email! I was shocked. Mad. Sad. It was so unbelievable [yet] believable at the same time. Then the wave of laughs, realizing I just pranked myself so hard.

I then spent the next 20 minutes reading through all the comments which people left on Brian’s post, some of which were also extremely funny:

And the whole time, I was sitting at my computer, reading through all the posts, just absolutely HOWLING, with tears of laughter running down my face! (I’m quite sure the woman who lives upstairs from me in my apartment complex thought I had completely lost it.)

It was the best laugh I have had in months, people, perhaps all year. and let me tell you, in the middle of province-wide, code-red pandemic lockdown, I very much needed that laugh.

Stay healthy and stay sane in these trying times!

UPDATED! A Few New Glimpses of Facebook Horizon on Twitter—and Some Reactions

Facebook has just presented a series of short teaser videos about its forthcoming social VR platform, Facebook Horizon, on Twitter (here’s a link to the entire thread).

Among other things, it shows that Facebook Horizon will support collaborative building, including the ability to resize your avatar as needed while building.

The Facebook Horizon avatars (and the rather blocky, Minecraft-esque style of the user-created worlds briefly presented in these teaser videos) leave me rather underwhelmed, especially after having been immersed in Sansar for so long. Sorry, Facebook. Frankly, I was expecting more than this. Even the Rec Room avatars and the updated AltspaceVR avatars look better than these boring, soulless Horizon ones.

The in-world building tools do remind me strongly of building with prims in vintage Second Life, circa 2003-2007. I’m still trying to decide if that is a good thing or not. Remember that many virtual world content creators got their start with prim building in SL, and eventually moved on to other tools (e.g. Blender) and other platforms (e.g. Sinespace). This could be a good decision in a virtual world intended to appeal to novice users. I wonder if Facebook Horizon will allow users to import more complex mesh items created using programs such as Blender, because that building-block stuff is not going to be terribly appealing to many experienced content creators. And user-generated content (plus a marketplace to buy and sell it) will be key to the success of Horizon.

I will be updating this blogpost throughout the next few days with other people’s reactions to these videos.

I’m quite sure that more details (and commentary on these tweets) will follow. It’s still not enough to entice me to renounce my recent decision to boycott Facebook products and services, however.


Thanks to Jin for the heads up!

UPDATE 1:47 p.m.: Well, that didn’t take very long! Lucas Rizzotto, creator of the wonderful VR app Where Thoughts Go, opines:

This looks like the social VR equivalent of a beige wall. I’m astounded that a company spending hundreds of millions of dollars on social VR can only come up with Rec Room, but Pixar.

In the many good comments made on a tweet made by VR vlogger Nathie of one of the new Facebook Horizon videos, Lhun says:

No legs, major lack of immersion, Roblox gameplay. If it’s as easy as Roblox to build things like that, sure, that’ll be popular, but VRChat it ain’t.

Of course, many people are using comparisons to existing platforms and services in talking about Horizon. Hermit tweeted:

Its Rec Room + VRChat with Facebook integration. This is going to be big, but I’m not sure its going to be good-big or horrifying-big, likely both.

2020.exe Has Stopped Working

Ryan pokes his nose outside of the self-imposed news blackout of his pandemic bunker…

Looks at today’s reporting on the Twitter/Facebook/Zuckerberg/Trump dumpster fire:

… and Ryan hurriedly retreats back into “social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse”, slamming the door shut behind him, until at least 2021.