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Elon Musk Laughed

Elon Musk laughing

Elon Musk is like a real life Ayn Rand protagonist.

While many critics of Twitter’s inequitable content moderation policies have proposed amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act so that Twitter and other social media giants are recognized as publishers rather than platforms, Musk circumvented that less-than-ideal solution entirely. He did the thing that only someone with so much money that it constitutes a superpower could do. He simply bought Twitter.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s not the Ayn Rand-protagonist-approach. Howard Roark dynamited the housing project that strayed from his ideals. Musk, on the other hand, seems sincere about reforming – not blowing up – Twitter.

Among his proposed changes are several easy, low-hanging fruit that ought not to be controversial to anyone. For starters, he wants to “defeat the spam bots.” These spam bots swarm #crypto threads like flies. Worse, I have yet to hear of one that actually followed through on its questionable promise to return double the ETH sent its way. In a space where even the most sincere actors are regularly accused of scamming, the unmistakably fraudulent behavior of spam bots does nothing but harm crypto’s reputation. Good riddance, I say.

Musk has also signaled that he would like to simplify the verification process. I wonder if Musk’s idea for doing so relates to the most intriguing line in his public statement after his bid was accepted: “I also want to make Twitter better than ever by […] authenticating all humans.” To be honest, that line comes across as creepy as when the World Economic Forum salivates over global digital identities.

This is part of the reason why, as interested as I am to see how the Musk era of Twitter unfolds, I still have no plans to return to the platform that I left on acrimonious terms. In an earlier blog post, I described Twitter as a “trauma & outrage information superhighway.” That’s still how I feel about Twitter, and about social media broadly speaking. My problem was not so much with who the CEO was as it was a disdain for the fundamental design philosophy behind these kinds of products. Social media incentivizes users to externalize their locus of control – to seek psychological validation from the retweets, likes, and comments of others, as opposed to from within. This is not a healthy way to go through life. It’s so dysfunctional, in fact, that I predict that a decade or two from now, society will regard social media the same way we now regard cigarettes: addictive and terrible for your health.

Spend enough time on Twitter and you’ll also notice the way it starts influencing you even when you’re not logged in. “We shape our information architectures; thereafter they shape us,” you might say. I think blogger Aaron Z. Lewis described the phenomenon best in this literary vignette:

Before I started posting, my thoughts were more abstract and non-verbal — like blobs of play-doh floating around a zero gravity chamber. I used to spend a lot of time re-molding these amorphous thought forms into Twitter-friendly nuggets. But nowadays my internal monologue speaks tweet by default. Thoughts bubble up from the depths of my psyche readymade for the timeline, already twisted into the pre-programmed shape of a Post. I wonder if the algorithm is starting to interfere with the way my subconscious works. What if it’s filtering out thoughts that it doesn’t think will perform well online?

Source: “Inside the Digital Sensorium” by Aaron Z. Lewis

It took me years to wrest social media’s pernicious control from my life. I quit alcohol before I was able to quit social media. Arguably, I still haven’t quit social media – here I am, talking about it again, right?

Lord forgive me, but I’m back on my 🅱️ullshit: Twitter’s actions during the last election were, to borrow a certain phrase, “deplorable.” Among other things, they forcibly prevented users from sharing information verified as authentic by everyone from federal law enforcement to, belatedly, the New York Times. Information that, as a poll from the Media Research Center would later reveal, would have dissuaded 16% of Biden voters from voting for him had they known about it. That was election interference, full stop. The magnitude and significance of this crime still gets my blood boiling. It’s why I cannot – will not – stop talking about Twitter.

Musk seems to get it: “Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated.” I can’t argue with that first part, although I wonder for how long Twitter will get to be the “digital town square.” Ideally, the digital town square would not be owned by any one entity – public or private. I prefer the approach of something like Twister, a blockchain-based, peer-to-peer microblogging platform that fundamentally can’t be censored. As the last vestiges of legitimacy vanish from the felled titans of Web 2.0, I think it’s inevitable that these kinds of distributed, decentralized solutions will take over. But insofar as we live in a world where plutocrats purchase platforms, we can do a lot worse than Elon Musk. His tenure at Tesla and SpaceX has shown him to be one of the most capable capitalists in American history. Repairing our fractured body politic? That’s got to be at least as tough as sending a man to Mars. I’m not even sure it will be possible, but at least we’ve got a shitposting supergenius on our side.

Letter to Ontario Senators About Emergencies Act Confirmation Vote

Today I wrote the following letter and sent it individually to all of the Ontario senators in advance of their vote on the confirmation of the Emergencies Act that was declared by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on February 14, 2022.

If you would like to use my words in a letter of your own, verbatim or otherwise, I grant you my permission and my endorsement.

Dear Senator,

I am writing this letter to implore you to vote against the confirmation of the Emergencies Act that was declared by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on February 14, 2022.

Section 3 of the Emergencies Act clearly defines a “national emergency” as a situation that (a) “seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportions or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it,” or (b) “seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada” and “that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.”

The Freedom Convoy and related protests that have taken place across our nation in the last several weeks unequivocally do not meet these criteria. Arguably the most disruptive component of these protests, the blockade at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, was broken up without incident by law enforcement, resulting in traffic resuming on Sunday, February 13, before the invocation of the Act on February 14.1 This clearly demonstrates that existing legislation and law enforcement resources were indeed sufficient to resolve the disruption; the extraordinary powers granted by the Emergencies Act were not necessary then, and they are not necessary now.

I am not the only Canadian who is profoundly concerned by the invocation of this Act, unprecedented in our nation’s history. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has filed an application for judicial review in federal court that requests an order quashing the Emergency Proclamation.2 The premiers of Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan,3 Quebec,4 New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia5 have all publicly denounced this use of the Emergencies Act. Even Paul Champ, a lawyer representing the residents in Ottawa in a class-action lawsuit against the Freedom Convoy, wrote “although I am acutely aware of the trauma experienced by Ottawa residents, I fully agree that the Emergencies Act is a dangerous tool that was not required.”6

What concerns me most are the abilities the government has granted itself to freeze personal bank accounts “of anyone linked with the protests without any need for a court order.”7 My concern deepened on Saturday, February 19, when Steve Bell, interim police chief of Ottawa, said, “If you are involved in this protest, we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges,” saying that “this investigation will go on for months to come.”8

Senator, behaviour such as this is characteristic of undemocratic, illiberal nations from which many immigrants to Canada have fled. I myself immigrated to Canada only recently, in 2018, partly because of the opportunities provided to me by this great nation and partly because I never would have imagined that my livelihood might be seriously threatened by a government grasping unjustifiably and unprecedentedly at totalitarian power to be used against law-abiding citizens.

Senator, I plead with you from the bottom of my heart to vote against the confirmation of the Emergencies Act.


Joshua Brian Anderson

Ontario resident and Canadian citizen

I Thought It Meant “Dis I Like”

Thumbs down

It’s been a little over a month since YouTube removed public dislike counts on all videos.

Soon after this pronouncement, I noticed an interesting phenomenon begin to occur in the comments sections of YouTube videos. Users started making their own “dislike buttons.”

Comment saying "heres a dislike button for you guys. go wild"

Other users simply left one word comments that said… you guessed it.

A series of comments saying "dislike"

As an information architect, I’m fascinated by this kind of push-and-pull dynamic between the top-down directives of the platform and the bottom-up behavior of the users. Clearly the users of YouTube still want a way to publicly express their dislike of a video, as evidenced by the comments section workarounds they have come up with.

In a video accompanying the blog post, Matt Koval, Creator Liaison for YouTube, describes this change as mitigating a “whole other use” for disliking a video, which is to harass the creator of the video through something YouTube calls “dislike attacks.” At what point does a sincere dislike become an “attack” dislike? Your guess is as good as mine.

Typing out the word “dislike” is certainly a “whole other use” for a comments section. Will that be the next user forum to get gutted? I have to say, if curtailing harassment was the goal of this change, it’s utterly baffling why the comments section wouldn’t have been the first feature to be axed. I genuinely wonder if YouTube will eventually turn comments into some sort of one-way function where users can leave a comment that only the creator will be able to read, much like those suggestion boxes where one drops a folded up slip of paper into what feels like a void.

A series of boxes
Pictured: The future dynamic of the YouTube comments section?

I also found it amusing that one of the reasons Koval names for the dislike count being “a big problem” is because “half of YouTube’s mission is to give everyone a voice.” How is removing one of the key mechanisms for interaction between users anything but the precise opposite of that mission?

Besides, creators can still create their own commentary videos about why they dislike something. Surely several minutes worth of spoken commentary (plus the view and like counts of said commentary) has at least as much potential to “harass” as a thumbs down?

Indeed, there’s been no shortage of commentary from prolific, established YouTube creators about why this move makes little sense and worsens the user experience of the platform. One of the best I’ve seen is from Marques Brownlee:

One of the key points Brownlee makes is that the dislike count is not merely that—it is also one of two necessary halves of a like/dislike ratio that provides “the immediately glanceable piece of information that I can look at when I arrive at a video to know if it’s going to be worth my time.” Neutering dislikes also neuters likes.

(Maybe there’s a corollary to that famous IA mantra about “the creative organization of information”. Something like, “The selective destruction of information destroys other information”?)

If I see that a video has 3,000,000+ views and 27,000 likes, what does that mean? Is that… good? Is that a particularly well-received video? It’s widely acknowledged that the likes-to-views ratio on YouTube has always been low (I’ve seen several sources put it at 4:100 on average). Most users only watch the video and leave as soon as it’s done, even if it’s a video they enjoyed. I can’t assume that a like count that’s far below a view count is necessarily “bad.” The entire like/dislike mechanic is effectively meaningless to me now, save for whatever unseen, mysterious influence my choice might have on “the algorithm.”

Compare the image on the left to the image on the right. Which UI provides the user with the most helpful information in the shortest amount of time?

A side by side comparison of the same YouTube video. On the left is 27K likes. On the right is 27K likes, 498K dislikes.
Which UI provides the user with the most helpful information in the shortest amount of time?

If a user clicks on, say, a how-to video (or perhaps a video about COVID-19) and immediately sees a disproportionate number of dislikes, that’s an immediate indicator that the video is suspect—and not necessarily because the information is malicious or the creator is untrustworthy. It might simply be that the information is out of date, for example. But now the user will need to either sift through YouTube’s notorious comments section for a clue as to the general reception of the video (which seems less than ideal if the goal is to decrease harassment) or they will need to waste time watching more of the video than they otherwise would have because they need to figure out for themselves whether it’s worthwhile.

Hm, I think I may have hit on something. One of the side effects of this change is that a greater number of YouTube videos will attract lengthier watch times. That’s fantastic from the perspective of YouTube, their advertisers, and their shareholders, who want to be assured by perpetually climbing eyes-on-the-screen metrics. But from the perspective of YouTube users? Not so much. Think of it this way: if I wanted to maximize the time users spend on a piece of written content trying to find the information they’re looking for, I could remove all the headers and equalize the formatting. That would certainly boost time-on-page, but would it help usability? What would that say about my priorities as an information architect?

Information architecture is a balancing act between the business needs of stakeholders and the desires of users. Unfortunately, the decision of YouTube to remove the public dislike count has to be one of the most lopsided moves I’ve seen from a major platform in a long time. It is entirely in favor of the platform at the expense of the creators and users. I say this confidently because I quite literally have not seen a single actual YouTube creator speak out in favor of this decision. To quote Jawed Karim, YouTube co-founder and star of the first video ever uploaded to the platform:

Calling the removal of dislikes a good thing for creators cannot be done without conflict by someone holding the title of “YouTube’s Creator Liaison”. We know this because there exists not a single YouTube Creator who thinks removing dislikes is a good idea—for YouTube or for Creators.

Why would YouTube make this universally disliked change? There is a reason, but it’s not a good one, and not one that will be publicly disclosed. Instead, there will be references to various studies. Studies that apparently contradict the common sense of every YouTuber.

The ability to easily and quickly identify bad content is an essential feature of a user-generated content platform. Why? Because not all user-generated content is good. It can’t be. In fact, most of it is not good. And that’s OK. The idea was never that all content is good. The idea WAS, however, that among the flood of content, there are great creations waiting to be exposed. And for that to happen, the stuff that’s not great has to fall by the side as quickly as possible.

The process works, and there’s a name for it: the wisdom of the crowds. The process breaks when the platform interferes with it. Then, the platform invariably declines. Does YouTube want to become a place where everything is mediocre? Because nothing can be great if nothing is bad.

In business, there’s only one thing more important than “Make it better.” And that’s “Don’t fuck it up.”

I’ll take a guess as to the reason: I think this change is to appease the “large” creators, despite YouTube’s insistence to the opposite. No big-name movie, music, or game studio enjoys seeing their videos added ignominiously to a list of most-disliked YouTube videos. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they are probably less inclined to funnel marketing budgets towards platforms that have humiliated them. I’m not the first to posit this, although some other creators lend this idea less credence than I do, arguing that even the most thoroughly embarrassed brands see all press as good press. My retort: even if brands are willing to tolerate the short-term sting of shame, other entities might be less so. Some of those entities might even be closer to home than you realize.

Fortunately, there does exist a way to return the YouTube dislike counter: I’ve installed the Chrome extension. I would encourage any of my fellow daily YouTube viewers who are annoyed by this change to do the same. Judging from the resurfaced dislike counter on YouTube’s pronouncement video (pictured above), I can tell there are at least several hundreds of thousands of you.

If YouTube is a key contributor to what Richard Saul Wurman described in 1997 as the “tsunami of data that is crashing onto the beaches of the civilized world,” removing one of the mechanisms for people to make sense of that data—the public dislike count—is analogous to smashing the beacon of the lighthouse on that beach.

To those out there who agree with YouTube’s decision, I ask the following questions in full sincerity:

  • Would you support removing the ability for users to give one-star reviews on sites such as Etsy, Yelp, or Amazon in order to protect the mental health of merchants?
  • Would you support the criminalization of the Better Business Bureau and similar consumer protection nonprofits in order to protect businesses from possible targeted harassment?
  • Would you support the abolition of public election result data in order to protect defeated candidates from embarrassment?

For the sake of usability, transparency, and democracy, I hope your answers to those questions are a big, fat 👎.

BTS Just Dropped a Meal

The BTS Meal at McDonald's

Hey, did you hear? BTS just dropped a meal.

I remember when meals were something that were cooked, prepared, or maybe in rare circumstances “released.” But dropped? That’s new.

“Yo, Grandma just dropped a meal. Bless up 🙏”

“Isn’t that just the Chicken McNuggets meal?” No, it’s the BTS Meal. There’s a difference. For one, it has exclusive sauces (which I didn’t even get in my order 😩). For two…. actually, I think that’s it. No wait, the paper bag and cup are purple. The greasy trash that you would normally throw out? That part’s cool now.

So what is a “BTS Meal”? Contrary to what you might assume, it’s not a political thing (that would be the “BDS meal,” dropping next month), it’s a reference to the Korean boy band BTS. I assume that their namesake has claimed the Chicken McNuggets meal because that’s their favorite pick when they’re eating McDonald’s at the airport. Also, because Travis Scott already claimed the Quarter Pounder with Medium French Fries and Barbecue Sauce combo as his own.

“It’s lit!”

You see what’s happening, right? McDonald’s is engaging in an act of information architecture.

In the case of information architecture, we could say that […] we have information as the raw material, embedded in objects delimited by spaces intentionally designed in order to promote user experiences as the core expertise practiced and researched within the field […]

Lacerda F., Lima-Marques M. (2014) Information Architecture as a Discipline—A Methodological Approach. In: Resmini A. (eds) Reframing Information Architecture. Human–Computer Interaction Series. Springer, Cham.

Let’s examine both the 10 Piece Chicken McNugget Meal and the BTS Meal as objects of information and break out their components.

If we conceptualize a McDonald’s “meal” as consisting of the four parts Drink, Main, Side, and Sauce, we can see that the regular 10 Piece McNuggets meal and the BTS Meal are more alike than not. They both feature 10 McNuggets and french fries – the core of the meal, in my sauce-adverse opinion – and differ only when it comes to the exclusive Cajun and Sweet Chili sauces that you can only get with the BTS Meal.

What I find interesting is that there is a degree of “participatory experience” in the BTS Meal that shows up in the optional components and attributes. The true, BTS-hand-selected, “Director’s Cut” version of the BTS Meal calls for a Coca-Cola as your drink and limits your fries intake to a reasonable Medium. However, it’s technically possible to order a BTS Meal and substitute your drink for something other than Coke, or to perhaps indulge in a Large order of fries. The BTS Meal, therefore, becomes less of a prescription and more of an ideal, which users can either merely dabble in or embrace whole-heartedly. I can guess what the ARMY will be ordering.

Arguably, the hard boundaries of the BTS Meal lie in the sauce component. If you – God forbid – dip your McNuggies in ketchup or mustard, are you truly participating in the BTS Meal experience? In my opinion, no. The sauces are the most essential component because they are the most limited and exclusive. These sauces only exist for this meal. McNuggets are forever.

<!--Valid BTS Meal-->

  <Drink Size="Large">Coke</Drink>
  <Main Size="10 Piece">Chicken McNuggets</Main>
  <Side Size="Large">French Fries</Side>
  <Sauce>Sweet Chili</Sauce>

<!--Valid Chicken McNuggets Meal, Invalid BTS Meal-->

  <Drink Size="Medium">Coke</Drink>
  <Main Size="10 Piece">Chicken McNuggets</Main>
  <Side Size="Medium">French Fries</Side>

In my opinion, a meal that hits all of the optional BTS Meal attributes but violates the sauce requirements is at best a Chicken McNuggets meal, but it certainly isn’t a BTS Meal.

You might disagree. You might say that it’s the exclusive purple packaging that makes a meal BTS, and the sauces inside (maybe everything inside!) are merely filler.

There’s a discussion to be had, and implications either way. This is information architecture.

“This is information architecture,” says man biting into fast food.

Where Has Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms Gone? (No, Literally)

Canadian government 404 page says sorry

Earlier this week I wrote about the worst 404 page of all time, but today I’m writing about one of the most concerning 404 pages I’ve come across in a while.

You can play along at home. Step 1: Visit the “Treaties, laws and regulations” page on the Government of Canada website. Step 2: Click on “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Step 3: ???

As of the time of writing this, 5pm EST on Saturday, April 17, 2021, the hyperlink to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms leads to an error. The page is missing.

I am not the only one who has noticed this.

This is mighty convenient given the universally condemned new lockdown measures imposed yesterday by the Doug Ford government that introduce, among other things, restrictions on interprovincial travel and outdoor gatherings with anyone outside of your household.

Source: “Ford announces new restrictions as COVID-19 cases threaten to remain high all summer” (CBC, April 16, 2021)

Now, I may be relatively new to Canada (I moved here from the United States in 2018), but even I have read the Charter a couple of times, and I seem to recall one of the sections dealing explicitly with the mobility rights of citizens. And I’m sure that giving the police carte blanche to stop and harass anyone who dares go outside violates some part of the Charter. Hmm… am I remembering that correctly? I’d love to check, but I can’t; our government’s information architecture has crumbled.

Perhaps this is the red-blooded American in me, but I couldn’t imagine, for example, walking up to the U.S. Constitution display in the National Archives Museum only to see it empty and replaced with the words “We’re sorry! We can’t find what you’re looking for!” Government spaces are government spaces, whether they exist physically or digitally. Something as fundamental as our documented human rights should not be haphazardly “misplaced,” especially one day after those rights were effectively shredded before our eyes.

This is yet another example of the worrying trend that I’ve written about before – important places made of information treated with reckless negligence by those in power. “It’s just a webpage. It’s just a broken link,” might argue some, but that sentiment betrays a lack of awareness about how much all of our lives are increasingly lived in webpages. (Especially during a pandemic when the physical counterpart to a government space is inaccessible even if we wanted to/could go visit.)

Obviously there other places online where one can find the text of the Charter. I don’t need this particular webpage in order to remind myself of my rights. Nor does its disappearance from this website imply that the rights themselves have also disappeared. Contrary to Ezra Levant’s above tweet, it almost certainly wasn’t Justin Trudeau himself who broke the link to this webpage. It may be a genuine mistake that will be corrected as soon as it’s noticed by the webmaster. I can’t even be certain that the Charter webpage wasn’t missing days before Doug Ford’s announcement yesterday.

But that 404 page sends a message. Whatever the reason for this broken link, I’m left frustrated and worried, especially given the timing of it. In her fantastic book How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody, Abby Covert writes, “The most important thing I can teach you about information is that it isn’t a thing. It’s subjective, not objective. It’s whatever a user interprets from the arrangement or sequence of things they encounter.” As users of that site – no, as Canadian citizens visiting the digital seat of our democratically elected government – we are entitled to whatever individual, subjective experience emerges from the content and context that we encounter there. It’s up to the information architects over at to craft a space that will effectively convey whatever message they’re aiming for in such a way that the message successfully travels to any user group, across any delivery medium or context.

As it stands today, the message I’m getting is, “Your rights and freedoms are gone.”