Eleven Tweets


Normally, I use my blog as a soap-box for spouting complex opinions. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is very constrained: it's almost impossible to express long, nuanced opinions. But sometimes it's necessary to eat your own dog food. Here's a series of eleven tweets I posted last week, expressing a hypothesis about what's wrong with twitter today.

If your business model relies on ads for income, you require eyeballs. Easiest way to get them is to generate outrage/emotional kick. /1

Hence clickbait news sites. Hence internet rumours. Hence paranoia. Outrage draws eyeballs to ads, it's as simple as that. /2

The ad networks don't care about truth, honesty, accuracy in reporting, public discourse, or democracy. Just eyeballs and CPM. /3

Ad networks compete. They drive ad prices down b/c we only have 168 hours/person/week to look at them. This promotes escalation. /4

Trying to build a business on ad revenue is like building on quicksand. FB and Twitter are huge; have to keep growing or die. /5

So FB/Twitter are driven to escalate, become more addictive, push the dopamine reward button harder all the time, to keep selling ads. /6

Traditional TV/newspaper news didn't continually escalate emotional engagement b/c ad space was a rivalrous resource; barriers to entry /7

... were steep. New media know they can be killed and eaten in months by upstarts. So the competition to be the most addictive is fierce. /8

Solution? Global ban on ad-supported social media. Instead, micropayment architecture funded via ISP subscriptions. Unfortunately ... /9

That's not what we've got. It's the phone system (you pay your provider for access) but the web was free to push growth in early days. /10

And it may be too late to re-engineer the web so that it doesn't destroy democracy and promote politics of hate on a global scale. END /11

So here's my question for the blog discussion: what is to be done?

(Point of clarification on tweets 9-10: the phone system effectively runs on micro-billing, with costs for services passed on to the end-user eventually, either by being bundled up in a line rental fee or by being charged per unit consumed. But the internet was originally a corporate/academic system where commercial use was actually forbidden (I'm thinking back to NSFNet and ARPANet days). And as the web was built out from about 1993 onwards, everyone agreed to make the new internet free but for infrastructure fees (the line rental on your DSL modem), and that services provided over the internet should be funded on a per-service basis by subscription or advertising. So there's no universal micro-billing mechanism in place.)

Busy busy busy


A short commercial interlude

Just so you know why I've been quiet lately, it's because this book-shaped object is now on its way to the copy editor for publication in late June/early July next year (assuming we survive that long.)

The Delirium Brief (UK) The Delirium Brief (US)

The UK edition is going to be published by Orbit, as usual, and that's their cover on the left (or above, depending on your browser). But in the United States, the series is now moving to Tor.com Publishing; so there's a whole new cover design coming. (To be clear: earlier books will remain with Ace, but "The Delirium Brief" and subsequent novels will come from Tor.)

You can preorder the books via Amazon here: US Hardcover Edition and here: UK Hardcover Edition; ebook editions are also available (US Kindle, UK Kindle not yet listed but available soon).

However, that's not my next book! This is:

Empire Games (UK)

It's coming out in late Jannuary ... and I'm going to have a lot more to say about Empire Games very soon! (In the meantime here are the UK Kindle edition and the US Kindle edition. NB: if you pre-ordered the UK hardcover, you probably want to cancel that order and try again. Tor UK made a late decision to switch the book to trade paperback, so existing pre-orders for the now non-existent UK hardback have probably vanished into limbo: on the bright side, their trade paperback edition should match the Merchant Princes omnibuses in size. The US hardcover is still A Thing.)

And now you know why I've been kind of quiet for the past few months. It's not just the insanely depressing news environment for 2016 (about which I'll have something else to say, when I've finally digested the indigestible implications); I've been gearing up to produce two books a year for the next few years, I've had to rewrite half a Laundry novel (because Brexit ruined the original plot of The Delirium Brief), and as I move to new publishing arrangements I'm busy working on my Next Big Thing, a space opera titled Ghost Engine which is only tenuously related to anything I've written before (hint: Palimpsest, only for intergalactic expansion over the next million years).

A reminder


I'm distracted at present (sorting out the final edits to "The Delirium Brief", finishing the first draft of "Ghost Engine"), but I can't help thinking that it's about time we all re-read Umberto Eco's magisterial essay on Ur-Fascism, published in the New York Review of Books in 1995.

... The fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change. The notion of fascism is not unlike Wittgenstein's notion of a game. A game can be either competitive or not, it can require some special skill or none, it can or cannot involve money. Games are different activities that display only some "family resemblance," as Wittgenstein put it. ... Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist. But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

It's a long-ish essay, but absolutely essential reading. Remember, Eco wasn't just speculating—he grew up under a fascist dictatorship. And if you look around the world today and can't see the relevance of this essay, I suggest that you look again. Not just Trump: look at the BJP in India, the recent coup attempt in Montenegro, the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, Vladimir Putin's Kremlin, and so on.

PS: See also Dr Lawrence Britt on the common core features of fascism.

Update: I am seeing a number of commenters qualify their denunciations of fascism by taking ritual strokes on the dead horse of communism (or "extreme leftism") at the same time. Stop it. We do not currently have a systemic problem with a communist international seizing the reins on power in numberous developed nations; you appear to be twitchily recapitulating the doctrine of false equivalence that the news media in the US have fed you, and it's a distraction and a snare.