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”.

A Front-Row Seat to the American Three-Ring Circus

The following animated GIF pretty much sums up my day today, as I scoured the news sites for the latest news from the Senate runoff races in Georgia, and updates on the protests occurring in Washington, D.C. and other cities:

One woman shared the following apt image on Twitter (and no, you can’t get more Canadian than baby moose!):


Obviously, there are lots and lots of pictures and video circulating via social media about the Proud Boys and other pro-Trump rioters storming the Capitol building and temporarily disrupting the certification of the recent U.S. federal election results. The following are a few that really grabbed my attention (mostly found via this megathread on the r/politics community on Reddit):

A Trump protester with a Confederate flag
A Trump protester in Nancy Pelosi’s Office

I have no words. The final two weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency are going to be very interesting…

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary: November 18th, 2020

Today is officially Day 248 since I began working from home for my university library system because of the coronavirus pandemic. I am still on holidays this week; I “go back to work” on Monday (while remaining firmly ensconced in my apartment). All my days are blurring together; I thought it was Thursday today until I doubled-checked, and it’s Wednesday! Today I am focusing on cleaning up my apartment, doing the laundry, and putting a mountain of dirty dishes through my dishwasher (and, of course, doing a bit of blogging; this is already my third blogpost of the day, and it’s not even 10:00 a.m. yet!).

The good news is that a tentative agreement has been reached between the University of Manitoba and the faculty association. It still has to be voted on, but if the union membership votes to accept it, it means there will not be a strike by U of M professors, instructors, and librarians this year. And, in the event that the proposal is rejected and there is a strike, I have received assurances from a union negotiator that there is an option to participate in the strike 100% virtually, so I do not have to walk a picket line (which is a huge relief to me, since I am at high risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if I should become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus).

And the Valve Index VR kit I ordered is scheduled to arrive via FedEx sometime today (and, of course, I will be at home to receive the package)*:

Now begins the formidable task of rearranging everything in my apartment to create the room-scale virtual reality space I have always wanted! This will involve throwing out some furniture and books I no longer want to keep, rearranging my stock of rice, flour, canned goods, face masks, hand sanitizer, and other pandemic preps which are currently scattered all over the place into one compact area, etc. I expect that this will take me quite a while; I am a notoriously lazy, lax housekeeper (“slob” is such an ugly word).

Meanwhile, I am absolutely feasting on the schadenfreude as I read news reports about the infighting among the remaining Trump staffers who have not already been fired via Tweet or jumped the rapidly sinking ship, and chortling over some very funny editorial cartoons, such as this gem by Canadian editorial cartoonist Michael de Adder:

“I see losers…” (a reference to the 1999 Bruce Willis film The Sixth Sense)

And I howled with laughter at these two:

Yesterday, I had my first telephone conversation with the lawyer who will be drawing up my will, plus a financial power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney. And I have been in touch with all six key contact people whom I want to know my wishes and requests in the event of any emergency involving me (COVID-19 or otherwise).

Now I just need to sit down and write up detailed instructions to share with all six people. For example, I will be giving one of my trusted contacts, whom I know from Sansar and Second Life, my username and password for the RyanSchultz.com blog, so that in any emergency situation, he will be able to post a message if I cannot do so. Doing all this gives me some sense of relief; I am finally taking care of things that I have been putting off for far too long. At least in that area, my anxiety is starting to subside a bit (but I still keep the Lorazepam handy, just in case).

I am—dare I jinx it by saying it out loud?—feeling happy. Or at least, happier overall than I have felt in a long, long time.

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

Well…okay…not that happy. (But you get the picture.)

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay sane in these trying times!

UPDATE 1:52 p.m.: Well, I just checked the news and my happiness has evaporated. In an update to the anti-mask rally held in the Mennonite Bible Belt town of Steinbach (which I first wrote about on November 14th), CBC News reports:

RCMP confirmed on Saturday that several people, believed to attendees at a rally in the city that day against COVID-19 measures, stormed into Steinbach hospital’s emergency room, creating a scene. Mounties said people have come to the hospital, taking photos and yelling at employees.

“I feel just really upset. I think it undermines the message that we are giving,” said Dr. Glen Drobot, a Winnipeg internal medicine doctor who recently worked on a COVID-19 ward at St. Boniface Hospital.

What the fuck?

What the fuck???

WHAT THE FUCK?!??

And on top of that, Manitoba’s top doctor is upset that stores are advertising Black Friday sales:

With Black Friday coming up, Manitoba’s top doctor is urging Manitobans not to take part in Black Friday sales and shop only for essential items.

Speaking on Tuesday, [Dr. Brent] Roussin noted several businesses have already started advertising their sales for one of the biggest retail days of the year, including in-person sales happening on Nov. 27.

“I think I want to be really clear here; with the numbers, this is irresponsible,” he said after announcing seven more COVID-19 deaths and 270 more cases of the virus in Manitoba.

“We can’t accept this. We’re in code red in Winnipeg right now, we have people dying every day, we have our health-care workers telling us that they’re reaching their limits. This isn’t the time for having a large, in-person sale for non-essential goods or services.”

Yes, this is the actual, honest-to-God news today. I am starting to lose my faith in humanity, folks. If we are only as safe as the stupidest people in our society, then we are in deep, deep trouble here in Manitoba.

And things just keep getting worse and worse by the day:

Manitoba health officials announced 400 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths today as the number of patients in hospital continues to climb and strain the health-care system.

There are a record-high 249 people in hospital, with 40 of them in intensive care.

The five-day provincial test positivity rate also reached a new high of 14.2 per cent.

The COVID-19 outbreak in Manitoba is now the top news cluster on Google News:

I might just go back to bed and pull the covers over head. *sigh*

UPDATE 3:20 p.m.: And here’s a chart to show you all just just how quickly things have gotten out of control here in Manitoba (source: National Post newspaper, COVID-19 denial going strong in Manitoba as experts say hospitals near capacity, Nov. 18th, 2020):

*Update: My Valve Index VR kit arrived this afternoon. Hooray!

Pandemic Diary, November 12th, 2020: Manitoba Lockdown

Shoppers lined up outside the Garden City Walmart on Remembrance Day to purchase goods prior to the enactment of new restrictions in Manitoba. (source: CBC)

The CBC reports:

When you look at the latest pandemic indicators, Manitoba is struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, the province reported a record number of daily COVID deaths (nine), a record number of people in hospital with the disease (218) and a record percentage of tests coming back positive (10.7 per cent).

The total number of COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba has doubled since Oct. 26 — a mere 16 days ago.

Intensive care unit capacity is almost maxed out. Health-care workers are getting infected with COVID-19 and two have died.

Contact tracing is backed up anywhere from days to weeks. Provincial epidemiology can no longer pinpoint how and where COVID-19 is spreading.

Timeline of Manitoba’s COVID-19 cases (source: CBC)
Monthly COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba (source: CBC)

Meanwhile, my employer, the University of Manitoba, has imposed its strongest set of on-campus restrictions yet, including the use of three-layer facemasks and eye protection when unable to practice social distancing (there have been a total of 29 positive COVID-19 cases at the University since the beginning of the academic year):

ON-CAMPUS ACTIVITIES: 

  • The wearing of 3-ply, disposable masks is mandatory on all UM campuses for all academic and research activities. Masks will be distributed in the situations for which they are required; a mask should be worn at all times on UM grounds. Further, unit supervisors will communicate directly with employees regarding the need for these masks to be worn, and will provide these masks if required. 
  • All work that may done remotely must be done remotely.  
  • Employees accessing UM campus(es) must be reduced as much as possible – only essential activities should take place on campus.  
  • Employees accessing UM campus(es) to be reduced to a maximum of 20 per cent. 
  • Individuals are encouraged to limit their time on campus(es) as much as possible. 
  • Cancellation or postponement of all in-person discretionary activities (either being contemplated or previously approved) until at least January 2021. 
  • Closure of all but absolutely essential common spaces and lunch spaces; all other UM spaces will be closed. A reduced number of study spaces will remain open. 
  • Eye-protection (shields or goggles) are recommended for all laboratory work or in situations in which 2-metre physical distancing is not possible. 
  • All UM sport and recreation facilities will be closed. 
  • The University Centre Pharmacy and the Fort Garry Bookstore will be reduced to 25% of normal capacity. 


RESEARCH

  • Suspension of all research involving human participants. 

The University of Manitoba has already announced that the upcoming winter term (January-April 2021) will be conducted almost entirely online and remotely, the same as the current fall term.


While things are certainly bad here in Manitoba, they are still nowhere near as bad, compared to the grim numbers of COVID-19 infected and dead in the United States. The situation in North Dakota and South Dakota, immediately to the south of us, is particularly grave (and yet, neither Republican-governed state has issued a facemask mandate). North Dakota nurses have rejected a recent government decision to allow hospital staff who test positive for COVID-19 to stay on the job.

All the major news media are rebuking Donald Trump for his stunning abdication of leadership as he and his craven team of flunkies fight against a clear election loss to Joe Biden, or assisting in any way in a respectful, orderly transition:

President Donald Trump had predicted in almost every campaign rally that the media would stop talking about the coronavirus pandemic the day after the election. But as it turns out, no one is ignoring the worsening tragedy more than the President himself.

Instead of taking charge as the country plunges deeper into the worst domestic crisis since World War II, Trump has disappeared inside the White House, saying nothing on camera since he baselessly claimed a week ago that the election was being stolen from him by President-elect Joe Biden.

He’s spending time with advisers, not strategizing on how to tame the out-of-control health emergency but seeking a path to win an election already declared lost. He’s also found time to purge the top leadership of the Pentagon, and with few appointments on his public schedule appears to spend his days watching news coverage and tweeting misinformation about voter fraud.

In essence, Trump, his family and his advisers are spending all their energy desperately trying to save a job — the presidency — that he appears to have no intention of doing in any meaningful sense.

History will damn Donald Trump and his administration for their mistakes, misdeeds, and inaction during what will be the worst surge of the coronavirus pandemic crisis yet in the United States, leading to untold suffering, misery, and death among Americans.

I’ve posted this image before, but it bears repeating…

Meanwhile, I am escaping messy, painful reality again today (the first official day of Manitoba’s emergency code-red pandemic lockdown), by spending most of my time in various social VR and virtual worlds (and, of course, writing about them on this blog).

My little hobby provides me with an outlet for socializing while stuck in my apartment during lockdown, when we are all urged to stay home by various levels of government in an effort to flatten the curve and avoid overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare system. Creating and styling new avatar looks as inexpensively as possible puts me in a state of positive mental flow, and it gives me a feeling of pride and accomplishment (no matter how small).

Shopping for fabulous free fashion finds for my small army of Second Life alts also helps me pass the time when I am bored (I often do it before I turn in for the night). I still firmly intend to bequeath as many of them as possible to other people via my will when I pass on, so I figure, why not add to their inventories? 😉

Before the pandemic hit, I used to visit places like Second Life to experience the unusual, the exotic, and the fantastic: those places which could never exist in the real world. Fairyland forests. Space stations. The Old West. Victorian steampunk. Blade Runner-esque urban noir environments, where the rain comes pouring down.

But nowadays, instead of teleporting to impossible worlds, I am using Second Life to visit virtual recreations of mundane places in which I have not set foot since the pandemic started. Places like the inside of supermarkets, for example:

Nostalgic visit to a SL supermarket
The produce section: I haven’t been in one since March!

I have not set foot in any retail establishment since I began working from home in self-isolation in my apartment for my university library system on March 16th, 2020 (except for two trips to my local drug store, one to get my flu shot and a second one to stock up on my favourite brand of shampoo). Today is officially Day 242.

All my grocery shopping is done online through the Walmart website, where are I schedule a date and time for grocery pickup. I drive to my nearest Walmart, I park in one of the designated parking spots for grocery pickup service, and someone wearing a facemask loads my groceries into my car while I stand a fair distance away, wearing a facemask myself. The pharmacy delivers all my prescriptions to my home. And I have no need or desire to visit any shopping malls (in fact, I gave my mother and stepfather, who are both in their eighties, a very stern lecture when I learned that they had gone for a walk through Polo Park Shopping Centre earlier this summer, just to get out of the house).

I am remaining focused on maintaining my mental health, which means that I am doing things that make me happy, like writing for this blog or visiting Sansar, Sinespace, or Second Life (I am spending a lot of time lately at Bray’s Place). Every so often I write up a cranky blogpost when I am a bad mood, like yesterday’s rant about the Futurist Conference taking place “in” Decentraland (for which I have since apologized). I still have lots of books to read (paper and digital), and I still have lots of cleaning to do around my apartment, among other chores.

And I am still spending a lot of time, especially in the evenings, watching Netflix on my iPad, either perched in front of my Windows desktop, sitting at my kitchen table, or lying on my sofa. I have moved on from gorging on the post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and zombie apocalypse fare, and I am now watching a lot of crime dramas.

I just finished binge watching Broadchurch over the past week, and I can recommend the TV series highly. It was some of the best TV I’ve seen this year: a gripping crime drama featuring two bickering detectives, taking place in a seaside U.K. village, with a rich cast of well fleshed-out characters that you genuinely grow to care about over the three seasons of the show’s run (from BBC, on Netflix).

And, having finished Broadchurch, I am now watching another British crime drama, Retribution, about the investigation of a murder of a newlywed couple in Scotland.

I have to say that I am definitely getting my money’s worth from my Netflix subscription! Netflix just has so much more content to choose from than rival services such as Amazon Prime, Crave, and Apple TV.

I had a subscription to Amazon Prime last year, but I cancelled it because I didn’t find the breadth of content I was expecting (although I may renew just so I can catch up on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). I joined Crave (a Canadian streaming service) just so I could watch the final seasons of Game of Thrones (since G.R.R. is apparently never going to finish the series of novels upon which they are based, and I wanted to know how it all ends). But after that, I didn’t find much else I wanted to watch, so I unsubscribed earlier this year.

And I got a free one-year Apple TV subscription when I bought my iPhone earlier this year. Again, after watching The Morning Show and the alternative-history space drama For All Mankind, there wasn’t a lot of other content I was interested in, so I plan to let my subscription lapse rather than renew it.

For my LGBTQ content, I rely on two relatively inexpensive subscriptions to OUTtvGo (a Canadian service) and Wow Presents Plus (for their RuPaul’s Drag Race shows, including the recently concluded Drag Race Holland). I cannot get enough drag TV! As I have said before, RuPaul’s Drag Race is one of the things keeping me sane in this dumpster-fire year. (And yes, I am still doing digital drag in Second Life.)

Stay healthy and stay sane!

Photo by Tai’s Captures on Unsplash