Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

As a student of history, I am usually pretty dubious about claims to novelty.  When someone says ‘There has never been a time/event/thought/argument like this before!!’, my first thought is usually ‘You sure about that?’ But, there are times when professions of originality are justified. No matter what the cliches claim, history doesn’t simply repeat itself ad infinitum.

This political season has had a number of ‘never-befores’.  Just because it is a ‘never before’ though, doesn’t mean that it will be a ‘never again’. The most revolutionary aspect of this election cycle, and the one that will be with us for the foreseeable future is the role social media is playing in our political culture.  This blog post will be the first in a number that will explore the sometimes exciting, sometimes troubling innovations in the quickly developing realm of social media politics.

To label social media politics as revolutionary is not hyperbole, nor is it surprising. Social media has revolutionized so many parts of our lives, why not mainstream electoral politics?  However, what is shocking is the transformative figure at the forefront twitter-social-network-icon-vector_652139of this revolution. It is not some youthful radical Congressional candidate from Berkeley or Brooklyn. No, this revolutionary figure is a 70 year-old angry dude who, prior to last year was best known for a reality television series and a combover.  Of course, I refer to Donald Trump.

Since he entered the race for the Republican nomination last June, Trump has continually been underestimated.  Over and over, political prognosticators have made two incorrect, though related projections.  One group of media fortune-tellers simply believed Trump would inevitably lose because of his ‘lack dailynewstrumpof a filter’.  According to this mainstream assumption, Trump would say too many offensive and/or ridiculous things, and the inherently moderate American voter would surely turn away in disgust.  That did not happen in the Republican primary, and these prognosticators were forced to reassess their beliefs….but only slightly. The Nostradamus crowd predicted that once Trump had to deal with the larger American general electorate, he would either veer to the center. The assumption was that Trump would batten down the hatches, go middle of the road, or inevitably face defeat. If the latest polls are any indication, these ‘expert’ opinions may be proven wrong as well.  What the nation’s political commentators never grasped was one of the  reasons Trumpists love Trump: The man never does what most rational observers would expect.

Nothing has displayed Trumpian ‘irrationality’ more than the candidate’s Twitter account. Like all social media, Twitter allows the user to instantaneously respond to external events, or share individual thoughts and personal desires. Trump tweets have allowed America to see the ‘realDonaldTrump’.  But Trump’s Twitter has become much more than simply a tool for his personal attacks, or a display of his psyche. Trump has  transformed the social media tool into a personal permanent propaganda platform. In this, he seems to eerily understand our media saturated environment better than any major political figure in recent memory. Here is how it all works:

  1. In 140 characters, Trump shoots off 3 or 4 controversial messages a week, knowing full well the media echo-chamber will spread his message to the masses.
  2. His twitter followers see his tweet, and adopt his political lexicon.
  3. However, many of these ‘followers’ are not Trumpians. Some are social media watchdogs who wait for the candidate to write something outrage.
  4. These people then retweet the original tweet with criticism attached, sending it to a whole new audience.
  5. Eventually, social media news platforms of both political stripes pick up the tweet, share it, and pass it on to an even more diverse audience.
  6. Lastly, once these platforms are all writing similar articles, the largest outlets get involved.  When Trump’s tweets get enough traction, it gets splayed in the MSM (Main Stream Media) of major Newspapers, TV and radio. And just like that….billions upon billions of humans can’t stop analyzing Trump’s latest statement.

This methodology of political propaganda is obviously cunning.  But, there is a very strange paradox wrapped into this method as well. Trump’s social media campaign speaks to his voters and, perhaps even more importantly, he speaks in the voice of his voters. Trump provides quick-hitters in black trump-twitterand white absolutes. After all, there can truly only be absolutes in the Twitter-verse; in 140 characters nuance is all but impossible. For a very large portion of humanity living in a confusing time of change, this absolutism is obviously reassuring. However, for many of the people Trump is speaking to and for, the original medium he is using for his message is one of the most troubling symbols of our rapidly changing world. For a great number of Americans who wish to ‘make America Great Again,’ social media is an enemy. It is understood by wide swathes of Americans as THE vehicle feeding our nation’s already intense narcissistic tendencies. Even more mysterious is that one of Trump’s most important demographics has no experience with using social media at all. Last year, when Trump was still fighting for the Republican nomination, almost 40% of his supporters were over 65 years old.  These same 65 year-olds are generally the ones who, at the very least, don’t have a strong connection to social media.  According to Pew Research, only 9% of Twitter users are over 60 years old. 91% of Twitter users are ‘kids these days.’

So, what is happening?  That is a much more difficult question to answer.

I think part of the answer can be found in the duel nature of social media in our political culture. It is both a source of enlightenment, and also a source of paranoia.  Perhaps investigating this duality in my next blog will shed light on this paradox.




By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Like so many others, I am absolutely psyched for December 18th, 2015.  If you need to ask why, then you probably are not going to understand my excitement. On that day, the new Star Wars is released, and like many within my generation, I will be star-wars-episode-7-the-force-awakens-trailers-poster-640x330lined up at a local theater with bated breath waiting to experience the continuing adventures of Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie. However, I will NOT be dressing up. I’m not that crazy.

I’ll tell you who is crazy though…

Last week after the third and final trailer for Episode VII was released, a strange Twitter trend began.  Evidently, a small group of fools have decided that they should boycott this new Star Wars film because it is ‘promoting a multi-cultural agenda’ and, hence is evidently ‘anti-white.’  A few extremist internet trolls have even argued that the film supports ‘white genocide’.  White genocide…….white genocide.  Lord.

When I first read this my immediate thought was, ‘what is wrong with people?’  Perhaps it was simply a ridiculous hoax? Nope. No such luck. There are obviously people out there who truly believe this garbage.

But, when I started to look into this ridiculous story, I grasped a larger more worrying trend.  As movies begin to slowly get more diverse (far too slowly for the most part), racist responses to film casting are becoming more common.  Star Wars is just the latest, and most extreme example.  In 2012, the first Hunger Games film faced a similar racially charged response.

Amandla Stenberg is 'Rue' in THE HUNGER GAMES.

Amandla Stenberg is ‘Rue’ in THE HUNGER GAMES.

The futuristic, dystopian film had many white fans upset that a character who they assumed was white was played by an African-American actress.  Similar online anger was spewed in 2014 because of the remake of Annie.

So, what to take from this? Why does this bother so many people? I believe the Twitter reactions in these cases point to the heart of modern racism, and why it is still a huge problem within our society.

On an individual level, racism is a system of thought that breeds dehumanization of whatever group is identified as the Other.  Of course, we can look at innumerable examples of racism in American history for illustrations of such beliefs and practices. But perhaps the most obvious example, and most extreme example of dehumanization of the racial Other took place in Nazi Germany.  Nazi Germany was a totalitarian state based upon the ideology of ‘Aryan’ supremacy.  For the Nazi state, this supremacy was constantly attacked by the supposed racial degeneracy of the Aryan’s immortal enemy,

Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda

Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda

the Jew.  Ad nauseum, Nazi propaganda portrayed the Jew not only as dirty, slovenly and treacherous, but also as a dangerous, even deadly, non-human.  Jews were vermin, they were bugs, they were bacterium. The ‘bacillus of Judaism’ was to be destroyed.

Such dehumanization attempts to destroy humanity’s natural desire to empathize.  All humans empathize with others. We can literally feel the physical and emotional pain of others by putting ourselves in their situation,  It doesn’t even need to be a loved one. Humans can empathize with any random stranger.  It comes absolutely naturally.

Empathy helps explain why we love film as much as we do.  Most people want films with action, adventure and a great story.  Those things are great, but without the human element, without characters we can empathize with, action and adventure falls on it’s face. If you want proof, just think about how people responded to the prequel trilogy of Star Wars (Episodes I, II, III). George Lucas’ telling of how Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side, and eventually, into Darth Vadar. These unbelievably anticipated films should have been classics. Instead, they were critical and popular flops. Why?  Many felt that Lucas depended upon ‘cool’ computer graphics too much, ruining the magic feel of the original trilogy. That had something to do with it. But, what ruined those films was the fact that the human beings in the

We should care, but we don't.

We should care, but we don’t.

audience were not able to care about any of the characters.  We couldn’t empathize with them.  Bad acting, bad story development and bad scripts ruined the films.  When Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala dies in childbirth, most of the audience yawned. When Anakin/Vadar finds out about the death of his wife (Portman), and reacts with a guttural bellow of pain, the audience laughed. There was absolutely no empathy, and it was understandable.

The twit tweeters who want to boycott the new Star Wars, or who were angry at the Hunger Games or disturbed by the new Annie illustrate their lack of empathy.  However, this lack of empathy does not come from bad acting, or a trite script. This lack of empathy is a sign of the pernicious horror of racism. For those who complain when a character is ‘not white’, or not the correct race, they are truly illustrating that they can’t, or they consciously don’t want to see these characters as human.  For the twitter trolls, the actor and the character he or she plays can only ever be a racial category: An Other.   Finn, Poe Dameron, Rue or Annie become only ‘black’ or ‘Hispanic’.

This is the heart of racism, and why we should take such Twitter trolls seriously.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I agree with my colleagues when they contend that we learn just as much at school each day as the students. The only difference is that my colleagues say this because they are keen, open-minded, lifelong learners. I say it because I’m not very smart and don’t know much.

Therefore, I expect – nay – demand that I learn wonderful and amazing things every day that I come to work. As we approach midterm, here is some of what I’ve learned so far this term:

  • After midnight, Twitter becomes “Twitter After Dark.” According to one student, “That’s when Twitter gets ‘nasty.’” At first, I thought this meant they were tweeting late night delivery orders to Papa John’s. Then I realized what it actually meant. I immediately informed class that, “One: I’m learning way too much about y’all. And two: I need a Twitter account.”
  • Yelling “Hey Girl!” is an ineffective pickup line in an academic setting.
    • And everywhere else in society.
      • Note to self: when I open my Twitter account, don’t use #HeyGirl.
  • Teachers are smartphone hypocrites. We discourage students from playing on their phones during class. But, if faculty get bored during meetings, we text each other pictures of the Samuel L. Jackson dog. And then revise famous Sam Jackson quotes as if they were said by a dog.
"That's it! I'm tired of these motherf--- squirrels in my motherf--- yard!"

“That’s it! I’m tired of these motherf— squirrels in my motherf— yard!”

  • Folding a piece of paper horizontally is called “hamburger” and vertically is called “hot dog.” Students were shocked I didn’t know this, prompting one to tell me, “You’re old as hell!” I knew time would eventually transition me from “young” teacher to “old” teacher. I never thought it would be triggered by cute, food-related paper folding names.
    • I have decided that folding together opposite edges of paper is called “taco.”
      • I haven’t informed my students of this yet.
  • Offering an exemption from the final exam for perfect attendance throughout the term promotes attendance and punctuality to extremes. “I am not missing for any reason,” one student insisted. “If I get sick and I’m throwing up, I’m still coming. I will throw up in your class. On the floor.”
    • Note: This student has already missed a class.
  • Discussions about religion and politics are sure to lead to contentious debates and heated arguments. This I already knew. There are so many opposing beliefs that run deep to our cores. I did not know the same happens to people when talking about the merits of box wine. In a single day, a firestorm of box wine bickering broke out among both faculty and students, and weeks later, the fire still burns. Friendships deteriorated, punches were thrown, and blood spilled like a punctured box of Franzia.


  • The words “Poetry” and “Group Work” produce similarly loud groans of exasperation and hatred.
    • I can’t wait to assign poetry group work.
  • Several students asked me if I workout. I wasn’t sure if that was an observation, a compliment, or a suggestion. Most recently, one student informed me I’m “Swoll.” Thus, I learned that people are finally noticing how much I look like LL Cool J.
I'm on the right. I know - it's like we were separated at birth. And no, I don't mind if you call me LL Cool P.

I’m on the right. I know – it’s like we were separated at birth. And no, I don’t mind if you call me LL Cool P.

  • It is acceptable to take phone calls during class so long as you turn your back to the lecture, whisper, and occasionally glance back at the teacher. Should the teacher call you out, the proper response is to turn to your classmates and ask why they gave you away.
  • Men ages 18-22 will wear sports apparel for teams they do not support simply because they like the colors and design of the jersey or hat. Following their lead, I am going to start hanging various national flags around my desk – not because I support that country, but because I like its look.
Where can I buy a Norfolk Island jersey?

Where can I buy a Norfolk Island jersey?

  • The surest way to get a class to lose its collective mind in cheers, applause, and laughter is to have an short, adorable man named Benito twerk during a presentation. In fact, it was so effective, that I plan to hire Benito to follow me around. Whenever I have a lecture or presentation that isn’t going well, I’ll just hit play on some music and step out of the way.
  • If you yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater, those people will not move nearly as fast as an office full of teachers at the sound of “Free cookies!”
    • Or “Free drinks!”
  • Put a bowl of strange candy near teachers and they will approach it cautiously, eat a single piece, declare it tastes strange and awful, and then proceed to eat the rest of the bowl.
"It's just so...strange," says one professor, as he makes a face like he smells a soiled diaper, and plants his feet firmly next to the bowl.

“It’s just so…strange,” says one professor, as he makes a face like he smells a soiled diaper, and plants his feet firmly next to the bowl.

  • The only thing people have energy for at 8:00am is to tell everyone around them how much they hate being up at 8:00am.
  • Finally, as I put another post on the Flaneur’s Turtle, I have discovered that the best way to get people to read my posts is to assign my students to read them. And when that stops working, I already have an in-class activity planned:


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Folks, brace yourself.  I’m going to make a statement that will blow your mind.  The internet is revolutionary! BOOM!…In reality,we all understand that the internet has, and is, radically transforming our lives. Information transmission, social networking,  international trade, finding significant others; the internet has changed these central aspects of  human experience.  For some cultural commentators, the internet is the best thing that has ever happened to humankind; for others, it is absolutely the worst.  But, there is no denying on either side that it is here to stay, and it is only going to become more transformational as years go by.

A couple weeks ago, Peter Stern and I were having a discussion about the internet’s effect on film.  Peter asked me my thoughts on streaming movies and television shows. I let him know that I have Netflix streaming, and I generally enjoy the service, save a few annoyances.  For instance, I can’t stand Netflix’s 5 star-rating system, and yet, I have a hard time ignoring it.  After pondering what bothered me so much about this rating system, I realized it is indicative of a larger dangerous trend that the internet has brought about: the digitalization of viva voce, or word of mouth.

The internet is radically democratic.  This is the best and the worst thing about it. Anyone can write anything.  Information is ubiquitous and generally free.  Such a radical democratic nature seems wonderful, but it becomes troubling images (11)when it is combined with two other calling-cards of the internet: user anonymity, and instantaneous info transmission.  Behind a relative veil of secrecy, any person can state a crude, uninformed, ridiculous opinion, and, on the web, it can flourish. Often, the loudest, most sensationalist ideas prevail over more reasoned argument. This is obvious in the political realm, where a man like Alex Jones can spread his lunacy far beyond what might be expected because of tools such as youtube and twitter.  Digital word of mouth politics is often based upon hearsay and conspiratorial theory.

However, the digitalization of word of mouth goes far beyond fringe politics.  This novel form of communication influences anyone who buys, sells, or watches goods and entertainment on the web: In other words, almost everyone with a computer. Of course, prior to its digitalization, word of mouth had historically been central to entertainment and consumption.  The great change with digitalization is the user anonymity mentioned previously.  Traditional spoken word of mouth is based upon trust and understanding between two people. If your best friend, who has a great sense of the hippest new music, tells you how great an artist is, what do you do?  Likely, listen to the friend and check out the artist.  Or, imagine if your uncle with an incredible palate tells you about how poor the food is at the neighborhood’s new restaurant. What do you do?  Probably avoid the place.  Viva voce has always been influential in the decision-making process because it is based upon mutual respect and understanding between two consensual parties. Word of mouth traditionally empowered an individual by helping him/her make an informed decision.

By digitalizing word of mouth, the internet has greatly increased the quantity of viva voce, but at the cost of quality.  Though the star rating system is obviously simplistic, it is quantifiably influential. It is hard to look past 300 separate itunes reviewers panning the album your friend told you was great, or 100 yelp reviewers giving that neighborhood restaurant 5 stars that your uncle hated.  Such is the power of peer pressure that I inevitably take into account when a book I want has only 3 of 5 stars on Amazon. Of course, sites such as Amazon, Netflix or Yelp don’t depend only on the star-rating system; they also want to provide supposedly qualitative digital word of mouth by providing comment sections for the user.  Ironically, such attempts at qualitative digital word of mouth also fail since comment sections often illustrate the absurdity and humor of anonymous viva voce. To see what I mean, check out this video.

Though silly, I think we should not look past the upsetting nature of the original critic’s message. The actual reviewer was practicing nothing short of reputation assassination; he provided an unjust assessment of a restaurant based upon what most people would consider absurd standards. Nonetheless, in the quantitative realm, his ridiculous review carries the same weight as a fair critique of  the restaurant.  Such anonymous, word of mouth ‘hit and runs’ are standard fare today. Arguably the oddest example of such smear tactics occurred in England in 2010, when a famous historian of Russia named Orlando Figes anonymously wrote a vicious critique of his fellow historian Robert Conquest’s most recent work.  Figes did this in an attempt to stop consumers from buying Conquest’s work.  By doing this, Figes illustrated the absurd downside of digital viva voce.  The anonymous critic now holds a position of far-reaching power, and that power is corrupting.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Moments after the explosions in Boston, the rumors and fear-mongering began.  It took law enforcement a couple days to identify the culprits, but the media immediately clamped onto any whisper they heard that held promise.  Not revealing its source, the New York Post reported hours after the bombs went off that a young Saudi man was being held in custody. Internet sites picked this up, and major outlets, most notably Fox News, ran with the story.  Though the story was disavowed by authorities, the media erroneously reported it because it fit a paradigm of Islamic extremism that many within the country hold as gospel truth.

Erik Rush

Erik Rush

The New York Post is known for sensationalism; the truth will often take a backseat to a juicy headline.  But with this ‘breaking news’, the Post opened a Pandora’s Box.  Political talking heads were thrown their red-meat, and they let an inevitable spew of conjecture and invective fly.  Erik Rush, a Fox News contributor, political pundit, internet personality and sometime author quickly took to Twitter, throwing gasoline unto the fire.  After the Post reported about the Saudi man, Rush ‘tweeted’, Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon! In response, one young man complained, You are already blaming Muslims?  Rush tweeted back, Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.

In a public forum, a media personality labelled 2.2 billion people as evil.  He called for the murder of these people, which would include 2.5 million Americans.  After this tweet gained unsurprising notoriety, and Rush faced harsh criticism, he responded with the defense that his ‘tweets’ were obviously “sarcastic”.  Whew!  That’s good. He was only being sarcastic in his call for the murder of millions of people.  I feel so much better now. (Note the sarcasm.)

You know, on second thought, let’s not allow Mr. Rush to get away with this that easily. First of all, Rush’s ‘sarcasm’ defense needs scrutiny.  Not that I necessarily think he was being serious about killing a worldwide religious community, but he should understand something about sarcasm: It only works if it is clear that the sarcasm is the antithesis of your thoughts and feelings. If it seems to fit your past rhetoric, then sarcasm can fall a wee bit short.  This is what happened in Mr. Rush’s case, and why his obvious sarcasm was not so obvious. You see, Rush is an outspoken proponent of what I have labelled in a previous post, our “Age of Hyperbole.”  Here is just a taste of the claims Rush has made during the last year (I could give many more examples, but there is only so much I can take):

– Rush has claimed that gay rights will lead to governmental tyranny.

– Rush suspects President Obama will classify Christians as mentally ill, and ship them off to asylums.

– Rush hints that President Obama is a sign of the coming  Apocalypse.

– Rush wrote an 2012 article titled “Yes, Islam is the enemy.”

Mr. Rush doesn’t shy away from radical invective, including a serious distrust of Muslims.  It is no wonder that his ‘sarcasm’ was missed. But, Rush’s invective, and excuse of sarcasm is a microcosm of a much larger issue facing today’s 17lede_greece-blog480culture. Though offensive, disturbing, or violent language is thoroughly frowned upon, it is increasingly justified or rationalized by what I am terming the ‘ISI’ stance: Ignorance, Sarcasm, Irony.  Rush’s defense of his statement as sarcasm is by no means the only instance of the ‘ISI’ excuse being used recently, with varying degrees of success.  A month ago, Geogios Katidos, a 20 year old Greek soccer player, celebrated a goal by giving the ‘Hitler Salute’ to the crowd.  In a sport where racism and fascism are often simmering under the surface, Katidos was banned for life from playing for his national team.  Katidos’ explanation for why he gave this horrendous sign?  He was ignorant.  He supposedly had no idea what the salute meant (which raises the question of why he was doing it in the first place).  In America, Katidos’ story was overshadowed by a different controversy, but one also intertwined to the ISI method. Country singing star Brad Paisley’s song  ‘Accidental Racist’ made ripples in the blogosphere a couple weeks ago for its depiction of race relations, and Southern American history.  In the first lines of the song, Paisley informs his listeners that his Confederate flag t-shirt does not mean he is a racist; only a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan.  Paisley’s song is about irony; the irony that others see the flag on his shirt as a sign of hatred, when he intends for it only as symbol of his bad music taste. He is innocent.

Brad Paisley

Brad Paisley

Paisley, Rush and Katidos share the same important benefit from the ISI defense that makes it so useful for public figures: It converts them into innocent victims. In the case of Mr. Rush, this is wonderfully ironic, since he hates our culture’s “Cult of Victimization.” Oh sure, he made a malicious and violent statement filled with hate, but he is not to blame; those who misunderstood him are to blame. Rush has been misconstrued by a mean, bad world of those who hope to destroy him. Thus, Mr. Rush’s sad excuse for an apology deflected any personal blame onto the ‘idiots’ who did not recognize his rhetorical gifts. It is our fault we took him serious about murder, not his for saying it.

Hopefully, Mr. Rush will disappear from the public scene after this media din. But unfortunately, I fear his ‘Ignorance, Sarcasm, Irony’ has no bounds.