Things to do Before Your Twitter Account is Suspended or Banned

Two days ago,  I was shocked to learn that, after 3-4 years in good standing, my Twitter account was suspended with no warning. Typically a suspension means you’ve violated one of Twitter’s rules, but it’s also possible that Twitter will suspend you if it detects that your account may have been hacked.

In my case, I was apparently accidentally caught in a dragnet for spam accounts. Twitter support got back to me and within 24 hours, my account had been rightfully restored. The whole incident did get me thinking, though. What if things had gone a different way and Twitter had accidentally deleted my account, or ruled incorrectly that my account WAS a spam account? What recourse would I have? Not much. More importantly, without access to my Twitter account, how would my life be worse?

There were so many things I wish I’d done! So many replies I could’ve made! So many direct messages I should have sent! But seriously, when I realized that I had no control over my account’s fate, I did wish I’d done the following things before I got suspended:

Back up the list of people who you are following – If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to “start over” on twitter again, the biggest loss is of course your followers. Over the past few years, I’ve been grateful to garner some pretty amazing people on my follower list, and it’s entirely possible that, even if I were to restart my account, those people might just never get around to following me again.

However, an almost equally big loss would have been the list of people who I follow. Over time, I’ve curated this list to be a group of users who I can depend on for interesting insights, opinions, ideas, and news. Re-creating this from scratch would have been a pain. I’d recommend you either copy-and-paste your list somewhere, or create a backup account from which you can also follow these people. This way, if your account is ever compromised, you can at least receive the same updates you’re always used to.

Back up your tweets – Twitter now allows you the option to download an excel spreadsheet of every single tweet you’ve ever made from your account (it’s right there under “Settings”). For some, reading through this spreadsheet might be a cringe-inducing exercise of self-examination. But regardless of your emotional reaction, it’s nice to have a record of everything you’ve ever said or done. If you live your life in public, this can make for a surprisingly useful reference document when you’re trying to remember major milestones.

Write more often on a personal blog/website at a domain name you own – Internet god Dave Winer has been issuing this rallying cry for years, and it can basically be summed up as follows: it is important to be the master of your own domain. In a recent post, Winer writes:

[M]aybe if more people stick to the open web, and resist the pull of the silos, it will force the silos to be a little nicer to the people who create their success. Think about that when Twitter does its IPO next month. How much of your creativity did you pour into their success, and how much do you get to participate in the windfall? Not very much? Then maybe you should learn from the experience.

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love Twitter and consider it an essential part of any online portfolio. On a personal note, the service has dramatically improved my life, my career, and the way I consume information. But if the newly-public Twitter makes decisions you don’t agree with or if your account is terminated by accident, all you’ll have left is the stuff online that you own. If that’s not a site/blog at a domain name with your name attached to it, then you may want to rethink where you are investing the bulk of your time.

The Magic Number? $75,000

Research shows that in the U.S., money correlates with happiness until you get to an income of about $75,000. After that, happiness returns diminish rapidly. The key is what you do after you hit $75,000:

Interestingly, and usefully, it turns out that what we do with our money plays a far more important role than how much money we make. Imagine three people each win $1 million in the lottery. Suppose one person attempts to buy every single thing he has ever wanted; one puts it all in the bank and uses the money only sparingly, for special occasions; and one gives it all to charity. At the end of the year, they all would report an additional $1 million of income. Many of us would follow the first person’s strategy, but the latter two winners are likely to get the bigger happiness bang for their buck.

The Ravages of AIDS

A powerful Reddit thread featuring the reflections of older people, many of them gay men, who were alive at the time and experienced the AIDS epidemic first-hand. Here’s the top-voted comment:

I was just coming out at the time that AIDS came into public awareness ( I was 25 at the time). I had moved to Denver to kind of find myself and figure things out…to get away from my hometown. Not knowing anyone in Denver, I of course started making friends. Unfortunately, what happened was that a few months after I’d make a friend, they’d pass away from complications of AIDS. I attended just over 20 funerals the first year I was there. It was a scary time. Not only the fear of AIDS, but I started getting to where I was afraid to try to make any friends knowing that the chance of them dying from AIDS was extremely high.

There was also the fear of not knowing the specifics of how the disease was transmitted. It was strongly believed at the time it was sexual, but there was no information on other methods of transmitting it…casual contact? kissing? sharing eating utensils? No one knew, and everyone in the gay community was afraid. Over time, AIDS wiped out an entire generation of gay men. This has had an effect on the more recent generations since people that would normally have been mentors, big brother figures, teachers, etc. were gone, so the younger generation lost out on the wisdom and experience of the previous one. The worst thing was when my first gay friend (and my best friend), came to me two years after I moved back home, that he had AIDS. He told me how scared he was, and that he didn’t want to die. He was one of the first group that was put on AZT as the one and only treatment at the time. He died 8 months later.

EDIT: Ok…so this is my very first posting on reddit. I’m OVERWHELMED by the responses. I had no idea it would take off like this! This has also brought me to tears many times…I have pushed all of this deep in the back of my mind for over two decades. Thank you everyone for your posts. It has really been healing for me to finally face the tragedy of the past, and at the same time, brought back a lot of very fond memories of the friends I’ve lost.

The First 30 Days

What is one year like in the life of David Chen? We’re all about to find out.

Earlier this year, a woman named Madeline released an interesting video on Vimeo. She had shot one second of video for every day of her life during the year 2011. I found the result to be unexpectedly inspiring and moving.

Several months later, /Filmcast listener and all-around awesome dude Cesar Kuriyama took to the stage at TED to unveil his own “one second every day project“, which he’d been filming every day for the 30th year of his life.

Kuriyama is passionate about the project and believes everyone should engage in it. I think the final result is fascinating, a seemingly endless series of context-less images. Context-less, that is, to everyone but the filmmaker. It’s a compelling snapshot of one’s life, a video that is evocative for the creator and intriguing and enigmatic for the viewer.

So, I’m pleased to announce that I am also undertaking this project. My birthday this year was May 20th, right around the same time I uprooted my life from Boston and moved to Seattle. Starting on that day, I have filmed one second of video every single day. Around this time next year, I’ll plan to publish the result, a chronicle of my first year here.

In doing this project, I’ve made a few observations about how best to approach it. First of all, I think this project works best when the second that you record is somehow representative of the day that you had, or at least, how you want to remember that day. In practice, this can get a bit tricky; often times the most interesting that happens to me is an interaction I have with someone else. While I can frequently “anticipate” when a good “second” will arrive, it’s often inopportune to whip out a camera and start recording. Secondly, it’s useful to record multiple seconds for each day, giving you the option to choose from a number of them. As a result, it’s also important to have a robust cataloging system for all of your “potential seconds.” Finally, I don’t have experience with this yet, but it sounds like it’s useful to create a master file for the final video, then stitch the videos together intermittently and continuously add them to that file, as opposed to doing them all at the end. Alternatively, one could also create videos for each month, then bind them all together in the end. I may end up going this path because it will allow me to release regular video content, but it also robs the final video of some of its uniqueness. We’ll see. 

As a proof-of-concept, I’ve stitched together my first 30 seconds, representing my first month here. You can find this video below:

When I began working on the project, I asked Cesar Kuriyama, “What if you do this every day for a year and the resulting video ends up being incredibly boring?”

Kuriyama responded, “That’s good! Because then you’ll look back on how boring your life was and you’ll resolve to change things.”

Not a bad point, that. I don’t know what the end result will motivate me to do. I can only hope it will show a life lived full, with love, laughter, and friends, a humble aspiration for the beginning of my new life.

[I am indebted to Cesar Kuriyama for his counsel and for helping me to establish a workflow for pulling these clips together. Be sure to check out his other work.]

What’s Wrong with ‘Kony 2012’

The “Kony 2012” viral video created by the Invisible Children organization has taken the internet by storm, accumulating over 55 million views since it was released just a few days ago:

While on its face, the video appears to be an innocuous call-to-action (or a call-to-awareness, at least) about the crimes of the Central African LRA-leader Joseph Kony, online observers have raised several issues with this campaign, including its patronizing imperialistic tone and the fact that Invisible Children have not proven themselves incredibly responsible with their finances.

In their analysis of the video at The Atlantic, Kate Cronin-Furman and Amanda Taub describe why campaigns like these frequently fail to achieve any substantive good. In fact, these campaigns have typically exacerbated the problem because they fail to communicate the vast complexities inherent in these situations:

The problem is that these campaigns mobilize generalized concern — a demand to do something. That isn’t enough to counterbalance the costs of interventions, because Americans’ heartlessness or apathy was never the biggest problem. Taking tough action against groups, like the LRA, that are willing to commit mass atrocities will inevitably turn messy. Soldiers will be killed, sometimes horribly. (Think Somalia.) Military advice and training to the local forces attempting to suppress atrocities can have terrible unforeseen consequences. Consider the hundreds of victims of the LRA’s 2008 “Christmas Massacre,” their murderous response to a failed, U.S.-supported attack by Ugandan and Congolese government forces. International Criminal Court investigations often prompt their targets to step up attacks on civilians and aid workers, in an attempt to gain leverage with the court. (Both Kony and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir have tried that method.)

Their piece is a must-read and I agree with almost everything in it. The one point I take issue with can be summed up in the following excerpt from their piece:

Treating awareness as a goal in and of itself risks compassion fatigue — most people only have so much time and energy to devote to far-away causes — and ultimately squanders political momentum that could be used to push for effective solutions.

In other words, Cronin-Furman and Taub imagine citizens with a limited “reservoir” of attention, and conclude that an ineffectual campaign such as Kony 2012 drains precious resources from that reservoir.

While I understand that on a basic level, people only have 24 hours per day and must allocate that limited time in prudent fashion, I disagree that campaigns like Kony 2012 are necessarily harmful because of this. In an ideal world, Cronin-Furman and Taub would be correct, and people would be so busy with activism that it would be a crime for them to waste their time entertaining the viral videos of Invisible Children. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in one with LOLCAT pictures, and Youtube videos of skateboarders injuring themselves, and iPad announcements and so forth. ‘Kony 2012’ pierces that world and perhaps plants the seeds of activism inside of people (even as it’s also planting some seeds of misinformation).

There are a whole boatload of issues with the ‘Kony 2012’ video. The campaign and the efforts of Invisible Children will probably not directly effect the good they are hoping to. But maybe they will cause a politically concerned citizen to educate him/herself on the topic, to explore it more deeply, and to commit to helping in ways that are actually meaningful. And that’s more than many of us can ever say about our own efforts in social justice.

The New Normal

From The New York Times comes this report of pregnancy outside of wedlock:

Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, motherhood without marriage has settled deeply into middle America. The fastest growth in the last two decades has occurred among white women in their 20s who have some college education but no four-year degree, according to Child Trends, a Washington research group that analyzed government data.

More and more, marriage is becoming a means through which we see social, political, and economic power dynamics play out.

The Young and the Unemployed

Discouraging news for the young’uns:

Just 54 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 currently have jobs, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. That’s the lowest employment rate for this age group since the government began keeping track in 1948. And it’s a sharp drop from the 62 percent who had jobs in 2007 — suggesting the recession is crippling career prospects for a broad swath of young people who were still in high school or college when the downturn began.

Woody Harrelson Gets Chased Out of Reddit

Woody Harrelson is starring in a new drama called Rampart. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard it is pretty solid.

A few days ago, some PR wizards decided to use Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) community to do a little publicity for Rampart. They created a page for him that read as follows:

Hi Reddit, it’s Woody here. I’m in New York today doing interviews for my new film RAMPART, which opens in theaters on February 10th. I’ll be checking in from 3-4EST today and will get to as many of your questions as I can, so start asking now! Be back soon.

A deluge of questions followed, as is typical for these AMAs. However, either Harrelson or the PR people running his account were instructed to only answer questions about Rampart (or in ways that referred explicitly to Rampart). In fact, if you read some of his answers, they sound like they’re coming straight out of a press kit for Rampart. As a result, Harrelson ignored the vast majority of other non-related questions, thus violating the “spirit” of Reddit’s AMA section.

Subsequent to this was a Reddit backlash the likes of which has rarely been seen. Reddit was outraged (OUTRAGED!) that Harrelson had attempted to use the site to brazenly promote his new film. But while others have done this sort of promotion in the past (e.g. Louis CK), Harrelson’s attempt struck the community is totally inauthentic and blatantly self-serving. The site is now awash with meme pictures of Harrelson, unpleasant trivia about Harrelson’s family, as well as rumors of some kind of sexual liason that Harrelson ostensibly participated in with a high school student in LA.

PR professionals, take notice: do not toy with forces beyond your control or understanding. Speak to communities such as Reddit correctly and they will reward you with lavish praise and tons of page views. But do it with a hint of insincerity and they will respond with the anger of a thousand suns.

[In fact, to state the obvious, when it comes to this sort of online promotion, or ANY online promotion, the less PR people are involved, the better and more interesting the resulting content usually is.]

Three Stories on Marriage

NPR has produced a lot of coverage about the institution of marriage this month. First up, a broad sociological study on how marriage is becoming obsolete. Among the findings, this shocking statistic:

Half a century ago, nearly 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were married. Today, it’s just 20 percent. But the Pew report finds fewer married people across all age groups.

We’ve also learned that unemployment increases the risk of violence and lowers the possibility of divorce:

Simultaneously, a new paper in the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy shows that as unemployment rises, the divorce rate goes down: For every 1 percent increase in the unemployment rate, the divorce rate goes down by 1 percent.

Weekend Edition elaborates on these findings. One of the interesting and unfortunate implications of this:

[Social scientists] worry that, you know, we have this, now, inequality in marriage. And is that then is going to exacerbate inequality in the next generation? As the next college-educated Americans have children, bring them up in these very, you know, nuclear family homes, their children, studies would suggest, have a greater chance of themselves going on to college and then being high achievers. Whereas children raised in homes where the parents are not married, while there may be many happy such relationships and the children will be just fine, on average, they have much poorer outcomes. They’re less likely to go to college. And so there’s a concern that you’re going to exacerbate this inequality.

It’s fascinating (and maybe a little frightening?) that we’ll soon have a generation for whom marriage is obsolete.

Thoughts on Gift-Giving

Matthew Iglesias at Slate offers a cool, microeconomic perspective of gift-giving:

The problem with presents is that you’re never going to do a better job of satisfying the gift-recipient’s preferences than she could do herself. But preference sets aren’t fixed. If someone had handed me $10, I never would have spent it buying the Cults album, for the simple reason that I hadn’t heard of the band. When it was given to me, I immediately checked it out and loved it. When you step outside the circle of things you know for sure your gift-getter likes, you risk creating a massive deadweight loss. (You give her a ticket to Las Vegas, without knowing that she hates gambling.) But with the greater risk comes a greater potential reward. You may introduce the recipient to something marvelous she would otherwise have never encountered. Giving stuff rather than cash is a way of saying you know better than the recipient what she really wants. The riskier the present, the more likely it is to generate significant benefit. (So, not a sweater.)

Meanwhile, David Bry has a screed over at The Awl against gift-giving at all:

Why do we buy each other gifts? Why do we go to the trouble? So everyone can have to fake more excitement and gratitude than they actually feel upon opening them? “Oh, thanks for this book I told you I wanted that I could have just as easily bought for myself! Thanks for these gloves, this blouse, this bottle of wine. I’m so glad to have this pile of stuff to pack into the car or check at the baggage claim when I could have just bought it on my own time nearer to my own home, or even had it delivered directly to my door. Here, I got you something, too.” It’s like we’ve all entered into this mutual pact that makes everybody’s lives a little bit worse.

As for me? I think there’s nothing like a thoughtful, valuable-but-not-too-expensive gift. But most of the time, gift-giving does tend to be a socially and psychologically burdensome task. Caveat emptor. Especially if you’re giving it to someone else.

Maybe #FirstWorldProblems Aren’t Really That First World After All…

Alexis Madrigal points to Teju Cole’s analysis of the #firstworldproblems hashtag on Twitter:

I don’t like this expression “First World problems.” It is false and it is condescending. Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country. People in the richer nations need a more robust sense of the lives being lived in the darker nations. Here’s a First World problem: the inability to see that others are as fully complex and as keen on technology and pleasure as you are.

Action and Inaction

John Scalzi discusses the Penn State debacle, and explains how reality can be stranger than fiction sometimes.

See also Sarah D Bunting’s piece on the matter (via MZS):

I would love to tell you that, coming upon a grownup raping a child, in the act, I would grab the nearest heavy object and brandish it and yell at the grownup to get away, and stuff the child into some clothing and drive him to the nearest police precinct. I would love to tell you that; we would all love to tell ourselves that. Everyone’s cape flutters attractively in the breeze of the subjunctive.

What probably would happen instead is that I would back out of the room in horror. Flee, in fact, on tiptoe, to somewhere small and dark, to process the upside-down wrong thing I’d seen.

Google Grouping

Fascinating analysis of the necessity of putting friends into groups, and in particular, Google+’s cool Circles feature:

When I first started using Google+, I had a sense of déjà vu as I categorized my friends. I’d done this before… on Flickr, on Facebook, on Twitter, on my instant messenger contact list, and in my address book. Shortly thereafter, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t worth the effort to rigorously group everyone. Then I started thinking about whether it was ever worth the effort to do so…[T]here are some human subtleties we’re missing in the digital world.