Silly - Dirty Face

The Insane Politics of Social Media

(***This is an article I plan to cross post to LinkedIn. I'd greatly appreciate any feedback, additions and/or critiques.***)

Everyone seems to have an opinion about social media ranging from vital through the greatest evil ever. Social media is both ubiquitous and poorly understood, being a rapidly evolving and fickle beast. Two very similar nonprofits with similar approaches to social media can have very different results on almost every measurable level. The why is never simple to figure out because it's the wild wild west out there. How wild? Well there's another regular circus that can help demonstrate how weird the social media world is and that's the US presidential race.

Every four years my Social Media community seems to divide into two groups, those who want to talk endlessly about US presidential politics and those who don't want to hear any of it. Anecdotally those not talking much seem just as likely to vote. This duality of engagement is just the unpredictable kickoff I need to show how nuts social media is. Election season is useful to those interested is social media because it provides an intense focus on how the web and social media are used to literally help change the future, For those claiming to be experts the opportunity is largely unparalleled and very interesting, demonstrating both the power, reach and limitations of social media. Eight years ago the Obama campaign changed social media history and changed the way social media was used, both inside and outside the political arena and we've been watching the odd interactions between social media and politics ever since. But do we understand it? Not really.

For example, if Facebook likes were votes this election would turn out very differently. The statistical website FiveThirtyEight took a fascinating look at who is winning the Facebook like race. Counting Facebook likes sees Bernie crushing Hillary by a 3:1 margin and Trump getting almost twice as many votes as Cruz. Then Bernie would beat Trump by a very small margin. Don't be fooled though. In case you think this is remotely meaningful then you need to know who has the most likes... and it's Ben Carson, long out of the race.

Carson's Facebook success and campaign failure seem at odds with each other, and of course they are. He got people riled up enough to like his posts, but not enough to vote for him. Social media "experts" have loads of advice for how to do it well and how to drive outcomes, but here's a prime example of that simply not working at all. Explanations abound on how most engagement is by a small percentage of people, how youthful certain venues are, how likely they are to vote, etc. They don't quite explain it and it still feels unpredictable.

Twitter is even more insane. Trump has the most followers (7.67M) with Hillary second (5.9M) with Bernie way behind (1.8M) and Cruz further back (1M). Hillary only got on Twitter April 2013 whereas the other three all joined in early 2009 and had a big head start. That said the middle of last year Hillary had a lot more followers than Trump and Bernie a lot less than Cruz. Recent accomplishments is part of the success of their campaigns but so are changes in their media coverage. As an aside for context, the father of political Twitter, President Obama has a staggering 72M followers, which is almost 6 times the followers of all of the current batch of candidates combined.

And what kind of Twitter activity drives these outcomes? Here are the candidate's daily average of new followers and number of tweets they make:

The number of tweets is often a factor. Too many or too few can both be bad for engagement. The last time I looked at these numbers primaries were left right and center and since then all of the candidates have slowed down considerably on rates of new followers per day, so seemingly real life activity has an impact. Notoriety clearly has a lot more impact. There really does seem to be no such thing as bad publicity.

In case you think Twitter still seems more sane than Facebook let me muddy the waters further. The number of fake followers on Twitter is a significant spanner in the works thanks to bots that target popular accounts and accounts that employ unscrupulous services to artificially grow their follower numbers. Further, as witness to Twitter's decline, a lot of legitimate Twitter accounts are mostly inactive. What this means is follower numbers are far less meaningful than you might hope. One online service ranks the campaign's followers as follows:

If they're right then it paints a very different picture indeed, and Hillary now seems to have the most real engagement. Interestingly Bernie has the best quality of followers by far, but still only 50%. So can we use Twitter for the vote? Hell no!

On YouTube it's Donald Trump who is winning by a landslide, with Bernie, Hillary and Cruz following in that Order. YouTube was seen as one of the major reasons Obama won the first time and now is seen as critical to any campaign. It's estimated that political adverts on YouTube get vastly more views than ads on local TV and are worth tens of millions to candidates, plus they stay there forever. It helps but how much is never known.

Those are the big players. Smaller players are no clearer. For example Reddit is dominated by Bernie supporters. Sanders was mentioned in more comments than the next two highest candidates combined, namely Hillary second and Trump third. Reddit trends young and liberal so it too is clearly not a balanced reflection of the US voter pool.

On Google It's no surprise that Trump's courting controversy and apparent masterful manipulation of the media get's him the most Google searches by a very big margin. The elections are a big enough deal that we can benefit from Google's own analyses. Their republican search statistics and Democratic search statistics are very interesting to see. Both of those pages also include the top search terms by candidate and the top questions asked about them and at any given time you can see what conversations are driving interest. Again it seems to make sense...except that search interest appears to be about feeding the trolls more often than not and again certainly does not parallel with votes.

So there are lessons in all of this and maybe the biggest is that social media is a powerful but unpredictable medium. PEW found that on most social media heavy activity is concentrated among a minority of users. You might argue that the social media race is more a reflection of how argumentative/trolls each candidate's supporters are.

As an aside, the AP has a page that gets updated many times a day where you can see what the trending Google and Twitter interest right now is.

The world has changed. Most people now get political news from social media and if it's true of politics then it's true of most other things. Social media can make a huge difference...but it can also fail spectacularly. There's a lot to learn and a lot we're still figuring out, and this is complicated by just how unusual an election this is. Let's face it though, it's a coin toss, a zoo, a shot in the dark, but one that every candidate has no choice but to take.

To those whose jobs require making sense of all this, you have my profound sympathy...because it makes little sense.

Silly - Dirty Face

A Question of Citizenship

I am finally considering becoming an American citizen, after four and a half years of being eligible to do so. What has brought me to this point is nothing to do with the usual reasons one hears; quite the opposite really. Instead it's the hope that I can deeply connect to my new community, that I can feel a part of making it stronger. To make this connection I'm asking you to please take a little time and read this note and then I'm hoping you will help me complete that connection.

My apartheid-era South African upbringing exposed me to some of the darkest human failings. It opened my progressive's eyes to similar injustices here, though it took me years to appreciate the subtleties on this side. Many of you post about these issues, so I know they are dear to your hearts; sexism, racism, homophobia, persecution, economic injustice, etc. Many other issues still fly under the radar.

Apart from the occasional donation or social media post Idid little to get involved, even though I'm a get involved kind of guy. Why not? Well, if I'm honest, mostly I felt like as a foreigner it wasn't my place.Instead I found myself ever looking over my shoulder at South Africa, as if it was there I should help. It left me impotent because this has become home.

So as I revisit thoughts of whether to either renew my GreenCard or to get citizenship I found that loving this city and the treasure trove of people I have found during my travels were only part of the answer.For me to feel like I belong I must participate. I must feel like a part of making a better, sweeter, kinder, fairer world.

It was a chicken and the egg conundrum, so to break it I've dived into some human rights volunteering seeking a connection strong enough to break my outsider feelings.

I found a group striving to make a difference and using innovative ways to do so. They are Social Justice Fund NW and their agenda is to help resolve issues of social injustice like poverty, gay rights, racial inequity, etc. and do so at the root, not merely treating the symptoms. I'm part of a giving project made up of diverse individuals hugely representative of those most affected by the inequities most of you are also passionate about ending. They are a remarkable group that I'm learning from and growing with. I chose SJF carefully, asking around first to those in the know and they came highly recommended.

SJF's approach is to gather a group of folks just like us to do philanthropic work with social justice outcomes. Our group will raise money, accept and review grant applications from nonprofits, and then grant money to those we believe to be the best of them, particularly the ones most ignored by the current business-minded charitable system.

We must also start the hard conversations with our friends and talk about the issues we'd usually rather not talk about, and yes, I'd love to chat to you.

We're tackling issues I know most of you care deeply about.We'll help nonprofits full of dedicated, overworked stalwarts doing astonishing work at the leading edge of social change. And here's where you come in. Here's where I do something terribly awkward and difficult for me, embarrassing even... but also important.

Here's where I ask you for a donation.

If we do our part right, and we will do everything in our power to do so, then your donation will have a disproportionately large impact because it will be applied where it is needed most. If you'd like a sense of the kinds of groups we'll fund, check out last year's remarkable grantees: .

SJF serves Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming,so those of you in other locations might ask yourselves why I'd be asking you too to donate when we may be far from you. Well, one current example is gay marriage. It had to start somewhere, right? That first ripple was not the first time a state made it legal, but one of the many battles that proceeded it. Some of you were a part of that. We aim to help those making that kind of ripple, and many ripples will reach you too.

All of our freedoms are inextricably linked and we are in this together. Please help us to help all of us. I'm busy reading and evaluating grant applications for the 31 finalists and so far I'm stunned at the work being done out there. It leaves me wishing we had much more to give because we'll end up saying no to too many deserving groups.

Every member of the team backed up their volunteer commitment with a personal donation we could afford. I donated $500. It would be wonderful if you could please make whatever donation you can afford. I would be thrilled to see some of you go as far as matching my donation, and I will make an additional $50 donation of my own for everyone who does match me, up to double my original donation. Plus my organization's 3X matching gifts program will turn every dollar I donate into four, adding $200 to your donation.

You also don't have to give it all at once, you can make monthly or even quarterly payments. Then please tell me about your donation so that I can tell SJF that it's for the Portland giving project.

We will make sure every donation counts, no matter the size.

Here's the link for donations. Please specify the PortlandGiving Project under the Designation field and for tracking purposes please add my name to the comments:

If you're in or around Portland and you'd first like to know more or hear directly from some of those our work will aid then I urge you to join us this Saturday for our Oregon Social Justice Summit to learn about local progressive movements, hear directly from some of the most inspiring organizers in our region, and meet others passionate about social justice:

Or ping me and we'll do coffee or a phone call.

Thank you for your time and for reading all that, even if you choose not to give, but I hope you do. And any of you who want to take this conversation further, please drop me a line. I would love to share a coffee and exchange stories.

Here's a photo of our team of volunteers:
Silly - Dirty Face

Papa Stop the War

Hearken the voice of reason. Racial venom is like social dynamite.

I've been doing some writing about the last days of apartheid, so far mostly for myself but hopefully some will be sharable. In the process I've been rewatching some movies on the subject and listening to music from the time. I was rewatching, Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony and it took me right back to those times.

It also reminded me of an example of music from South Africa that was popular toward the end of apartheid, a plea for sanity and an end to the cycle of violence. Scenes of men preparing for battle were censored by the government controlled media. I remember loving this song. It is performed by Chico (Sello Twala), but features the voice and english poetry (see below) of The People's Poet, Mzwake Mbuli.

Mbuli started with anti-apartheid protest poetry at Trade Union events and was repeatedly detained by the authorities and his music and albums banned. He persisted at great personal risk, becoming a popular hero of the revolution. He continues to speak for the people today, highlighting issues like HIV and AIDS, political violence and corruption.

Papa Stop the War
Listen to the voice of reason
Words of wisdom have to be ushered
A better world has to be built
Listen to the voice of reason
Now is the time
To unchain the minds
Now is the time
To unchain the hearts
Images of a new dream
Images of a new society
Should emerge
Hearken the voice of reason
Racial venom is like social dynamite
It is like a revival of a perilous syndrome
A syndrome of death and destruction
This is the voice of concern
A voice of social redemption
An eye for an eye makes the world blinded
reconciliation and reconstruction
Is like a dark cloud
Giving way to the blue sky
Human kind must put an end to war
Or war will put an end to human kind
Africa and the world
Cannot afford self pity
If something is not worth living for
It is not worth dying for
Yes this is the voice of reason
In search of liberty
Human kind think positive
Choose life not death
This is the voice of reason
That shakes the conscience of human kind
That was the voice of reason
Silly - Dirty Face

The Stories I Saw in a Tired Lady's Eyes

When I entered their offices I saw her sitting at her desk staring intently at her computer screen, concentrating hard. She looked tired, drained by the world, worn down by her obligations. I was in a nonprofit that serves the homeless at a time when they're all still struggling in this down economy. Even at the best of times most nonprofit workers are overworked and underpaid to a degree that leads to a very high burnout rate.

I was there to make a donation. I'd promised myself that if I had savings in the bank come the end of this year that I was going to donate generously (for my finances) to two of my favorite nonprofits serving the homeless. I turned to the volunteer receptionist and asked if she could confirm that their seasonal matching gift challenge was in effect. According to their website, starting today every dollar donated through the end of the year will be matched by 50c by donors, so a $100 donation would turn into $150. She called to the tired lady, who made a quick phone call and confirmed that this matching donation was indeed active.

"In that case, I'd like to donate two fifty," I said, presenting my credit card. I was not going to mention the amount in this tale as I generally see that as being pretty crass really, indeed all too often I see it as cheapening a donation by turning it into a call for personal attention. But the amount matters to the experience I need to share with you and so I put it in.

The tired lady nodded and the receptionist asked, "Two dollars and fifty cents?"
"Um, no, two hundred and fifty dollars." I shook my head. "It would seem absurd to me to use a credit card to donate a mere two dollars and fifty cents." I replied, genuinely surprised.

"Oh, I'm the one who keeps track of the donations and I'm dealing with $1 or $2 all the time," tired lady replied. I'm somehow charmed by this because I figure it's some of the homeless and the poor giving whatever they can, maybe even paying it forward for past assistance. Still it's clear that times are hard and that they don't see donations of this size very often, despite being a desperately needed nonprofit that feeds the homeless and poor, while giving them a place where they can find a kind of family and make real human connections. It's a place where they are connected to those they serve, seeing them as real people who can get through this, rather than poor wretches who heed alms. There can be tyranny in good deeds, but I give to this nonprofit because it is not who they are.

At this point I've noticed that both women have perked up and it's dawning on me that this is a much bigger donation than their norm. But I'm not done yet. There's a reason I made my donation in person and it's that I need extra paperwork from them.
"I need you to fill in this form for me," I said, "It's for our matching gifts program where I work. I'll return this to my office and in the next week or three they will send you a check for another $750. That will bring it to $1,000. Then if we add in your 50c match that will take it to $1,125."

The 3:1 match by my organization is exactly why I picked $250. I love that my donations of hundreds will turn into thousands and yes, I love telling nonprofits about it. It's a wonderful perk of my job that I can't ever put in the bank, but that I always count whenever I tally up what my gross pay is. We're allowed up to $10K per year of matching gifts and we can match cash donations dollar for dollar through three dollars to the dollar. We can also match volunteer hours, which mostly means that every hour I volunteer at a nonprofit my organization will give them $40. How awesome is that? Much as I value my other benefits, like leave, medical, 401K, etc., I'm kind of in love with our matching gifts benefit.

Both women were beaming now, tossing out thank-yous like confetti at a wedding, a new spring in their step as they bustled to process my donation and paperwork. As I headed out the tired lady took my hand and held it, standing close and looking me in the eyes. "Thank you. Thank you so much. This really made my day. My week." As I look into her eyes I can see that she is so very, very sincere, that she means those words quite literally. I was touched.

"You're very welcome," I replied, "but it's you folks that I need to be thanking for all that you do. You're doing amazing and desperately needed work here. So thank you, thank you so much."

Once outside, much to my surprise, I found myself quite emotional. I had forgotten how my donation was not just for those that the nonprofit served, but was also for the morale of the exhausted volunteers and staff. I was filled with a deep feeling of gratitude for this comfortable life I have and for this opportunity to help others in my community, and for an employer who can turn my small good deed into a much bigger one.

I was also filled with some small elation. I felt lighter. It's been a hard past few months, far more than I've talked about here and coming at me from several angles, leaving me doubtful. What I'd expected least from this day was to be so uplifted. It was a balm. I had forgotten this as well, that giving to others is always a gift to oneself too.

And yes, I'm paying it forward too, as I must. I come from dirt poor. I got help. I am so fortunate to be in as comfortable a life as I have. Some folks talk loudly about how opportunity abounds if one but chooses to take it, but I know this to be a destructive fallacy. The truth is poverty is a trap that very few escape, no matter how hard they try.

If you could look back in time at the uncertain and malnourished boy I once was, as I timidly peered around childhood's doorframe at my impending manhood, lacking financial and psychological resources for the battle to escape poverty, then you'd hardly have believed it was possible for me to get to where I am today. And it wasn't really. I had some luck in this game; my stumbling about blindly saw me trip over something useful and life changing, a career in tech that was attainable without the expense of a university education.

And there was much help along the way. Some of it did more harm than good, kindness wielded as a cudgel to beat respectful gratitude out of us. But it helped nonetheless, and -- combined with more selfless giving -- it was vital to us. It helped us survive and saw us get a decent education, our best ally in our war with our paucity of resources and all of our own doubts about our potential and worth. Without it we too could have been homeless. With it we remained on swampy ground, but with hope.

I owe much to people like tired lady, with their full hands and empty pockets, and their hearts wide open. There are select individuals through the years that stand out in memory's esteem, teachers who dedicated their lives to her poor kids, a housemother who saw shining potential in me and blew on the faltering embers, the one social worker who sincerely wanted more for us than for her privileged social resume, the family friend who encouraged me to make art, the damaged and soul-bleeding friend who helped me survive my late teens and even took me in when I ran away from home.

Hell, I even owe my mother, the albatross around our necks and the shackles around our ankles, the stealer of compliments and sower of self-doubt, for she taught us to read, to learn, to think and to question, to open our eyes to the truth. These skills were tools for picking the locks of life's barred doors. When you're climbing out of the pit you need every possible handhold to have any chance of getting out.

So to you, tired lady whose week I made, with your sweet soft smile and eyes that sent a thousand worthwhile stories echoing through my darker memories, thank you. Thank you for all you do. Thank you for your generous soul. Thank you so much for making my day... my month.

And to you, my dear friends, if you have any paying forward you have yet to do, now is the time. With a little help, people not unlike me will thrive in our tomorrows and will thank you for it. And so do I.
Silly - Dirty Face


I've just been promoted to president of the United States of America. I plan to use my lottery millions to finance a publicity campaign to convince the nation that this was all their idea... and also to launch my pop music career. I plan to raise your taxes in order to pay for the massive pay raise I deserve. If the job does not work out then I'll retire on the island I plan to conquer next week... but first I'm going into space with the Russians as a space tourist-come despot. Yeah, I know... a quiet week, but I'm sure I'll have more to report on next week.
Silly - Dirty Face

Why so little science fiction set in Africa?

There is so much I agree with in this intriguing radio bit about science fiction in Africa, and much of it I've been saying for years. The BBC get's South African SF author Lauren Beukes to answer the question, "Is Science Fiction Coming to Africa?" I think it was the wrong question... but the right answer.

BBC World Service - Your World, Is Science Fiction Coming to Africa?