Webb Report: Twitter’s toxic hive, now with even louder bees

12:00 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 Austin360
Twitter users now have the opportunity to double the length of their tweets. Yay? AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

Twitter rolled out a new feature for select users last week: the ability to tweet 280 characters instead of the classic 140. What, you wanted the company to clean up all those Nazis using their site first? Surprise — you get a bowl of alphabet soup instead.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted about the new party trick Tuesday: “This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence!”

If you ask the peanut gallery, the problem wasn’t all that real. For one thing: We already have Twitter threads — the practice of stringing together a series of tweets to tell one (theoretically) coherent narrative. Many users of the social media platform tweeted that they didn’t want more characters to work with; they just wanted a editing function for the characters they already had.

“Uh does anyone actually want 280 characters?” user @wes_chu tweeted. “I just wanted an edit function. That’s like asking for world peace & getting a donkey.”

If a donkey was good enough for Jesus of Nazareth, he’s good enough for me. I digress.

I wasn’t given the gift of greater gab, though one of my colleagues showed me how to hack my way into the elite. My first 280-character tweet: the first verse of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer,” of course. Most took the corny way out: KFC Australia (who knew?) pretended to start tweeting their secret recipe. The Oregon Zoo tweeted the word “otters” 40 times. The official Chicago Bears account tweeted “Da Bears,” but with … a considerably greater amount of A’s than that. And so forth.

But as is an unfortunate refrain in 2017, back to the Nazis. If you’re fortunate enough not to wade through the tweet-sea every day, you might have missed that Twitter has a real problem with hate speech and abusive behavior on its platform. It’s not uncommon to come across anti-Semitic attacks during the most casual of searches on the site. Twitter’s movement on banning accounts espousing hate is glacial to the point of being almost nonexistent. Milo Yiannopolous, a prominent face of the so-called alt-right, was banned from the platform for targeted abuse last summer after making targeted abuse a high-profile cottage industry long before that. Meanwhile, the Twitter account for former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke remains active.

That’s not to mention the growing scrutiny on Twitter to address the inflammatory tweets of President Donald Trump, who on any given day could float the total annihilation of an entire country using his 140 characters or publicly humiliate a TV host’s physical appearance from his bully pulpit. (Trump was not among the randomly selected chosen for a character-limit boost, by the way. Neither was Dorsey’s mom.)

Last week, the social media site also took its turn in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in U.S. politics. According to the Washington Post, Twitter said it has shut down more than 200 accounts tied to Russian operatives engaged in disinformation campaigns.

Twitter’s toxicity is such a problem that it’s become somewhat of a meme among users.

“There were even some pretty dark jokes about how this just allows Twitter trolls to send you even longer and more specific death threats,” Tanya Chen, BuzzFeed News deputy social news editor, told NPR.

Regardless of the inevitable snark — the people that take the time to complain on the internet are usually the people who would complain about anything — Twitter’s big announcement prioritized verbosity before safety. The social media platform increasingly resembles a codependent hive caught in an endless feedback loop of heightened emotion. Double character space doesn’t amount to much of a change; it’s fairly cosmetic, in fact. It’s not like anyone ever let the 141st character stop them from their manifesto of choice.

But if there’s one thing a hive needs, it probably isn’t more room to sting. Thanks for the room to tweet out the Bon Jovi lyrics, though.

Won’t you take me to …

Those who have been to Fort Worth know that the city has a lot of nicknames. “Panther City.” “Cowtown.” “Queen City of the Prairie.” But one of the city’s nicknames has long stumped people: “Funky Town.”

What’s so funky about the home of Texas Christian Univerity? According to a recent column by longtime Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Bud Kennedy, a lot of things contribute to the city’s funky cred. One of those things is its root in Austin’s “Keep Austin Weird” movement.

The story goes that Austin librarian “Red” Wassenich, who grew up in Fort Worth, coined the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan when he saw the capitol city losing some of its quirky side. Fort Worth’s response to that slogan was to put “Keep Fort Worth Funky” on a T-shirt.

Wassenich emailed Kennedy that when he was going to high school in Fort Worth in 1967, the town was plenty funky: “Downtown used to be largely pawnshops and cheap diners. The TCU mascot was a Horned Frog, not the usual eagle or mustang.”

Fort Worth and Austin are a lot more similar than people give them credit for. Fort Worth does have a certain diverse “funkiness” that extends to the city’s music scene, which has birthed Leon Bridges, Kirk Franklin, T Bone Burnett, Pat Green and Green River Ordinance, among others.

The funky nickname grew in popularity in the 1980s, when Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” topped the charts. By 2011, the funky connection to Austin was made once again when Fort Worth entrepreneur James Zametz took over a website promoting “Keep Fort Worth Funky.”

“It’s a take on ‘Keep Austin Weird,’ because most people know what that means,” he told Kennedy.

And, as Kennedy points out by quoting the American-Statesman at the end of his column, at least neither city is Dallas.

— Jake Harris, American-Statesman staff

A Longhorn connection

Before he began kneeling during the national anthem, former San Francisco 49ers’ player Colin Kaepernick took a symbolic seat on the bench. What spurred the change in his protest? Former Seattle Seahawks and Texas Longhorn player Nate Boyer said it’s because he wrote him a letter, CBS Sports reports.

Published in the Army Times, the letter drew on Boyer’s time as a Green Beret and expressed his stance on Kaepernick’s protest, saying, “If I had noticed my teammate sitting on the bench, it would have really hurt me.”

It also led to a meeting between the two where they discussed their different stances on the issue.

“We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer told CBS. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.”

Boyer told CBS that Kaepernick was receptive to his suggestion, saying, “He said, ‘I think that would be— I think— I think that would be really powerful.’ And, you know, he asked me to do it with him. And I said, ‘Look, I’ll stand next to you. I gotta stand though. I gotta stand with my hand on my heart. That’s just— that’s just what I do and where I’m from.’”

— Amanda O’Donnell, American-Statesman staff

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