Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Citing Sources: Everybody doing their part to stop fake news

I recently had an old friend mock me for sharing a link from an aggregator blog (it was boingboing; that's beside the point).

He had a point...and he didn't.

There is a point in that the various aggregators - regardless of which ones you like and trust - sometimes (or often) pass along poorly-sourced material, rumor, or spin things so hard that their headlines are counter to the actual news.

At the same time, just because someone you don't like or don't trust says a thing, it's not automatically false either.  If he'd bothered to actually look at what they were talking about, he would have seen a link to the primary source. Which goes to illustrate something all of us are guilty of, and all of us need to change:

We can't rely on the headline and auto-generated snapshot on social media.

Let me repeat that.

We can't rely on the headline and auto-generated snapshot on social media.

So...what are we to do?

There's a really simple guideline, and you probably already know it.

Get as close to a primary source as possible.

You might have learned this as "don't cite Wikipedia". If you had a good instructor, they told you to not cite Wikipedia directly, but to go to the sources that Wikipedia itself cites.

For the rest of us, that means that if you're sharing an article from an aggregator site, at least check out what they link to and cite before sharing. And preferentially share the source material instead of the aggregator site's page.

I've also shifted my primary news gathering to several well-known and (largely) respected organizations - Reuters, Wired, the BBC, and so on.

This won't quell the controversy over issues and disagreements.

But it does mean that we'll be doing our part to both help get rid of "fake news" and stop giving others easy ammunition to attack us and our beliefs.

How to be a social butterfly when you're not

I was recently described as a "social butterfly" by a new acquaintance.

They were - to my surprise - serious.

They didn't realize that I'm really quite introverted, and can gladly spend days without seeing anyone. Social interaction with nearly anyone is really emotionally draining for me. (If it isn't, that's a really important sign for me, but beside the point of this post.)  There's the very good post "Taming the Mammoth" which is recommended reading if you find yourself having problems with this.

Additionally, there's two concrete techniques that I learned to use.

The first - and perhaps the most important for anyone who's played a RPG - is that I'm usually playing "Convention Steve".  (See Season 3 of The Guild for this technique in use at the end.)  ConSteve isn't someone different; he's just me with the intensity and outgoingness turned up to 11.

You may have a character that you identify with who's pretty close to how you are. Play them. Yes, you're larping, but nobody needs to know. If someone reacts negatively, they aren't judging you, they're judging the character you're playing.

It sounds stupid, yes. But it works, and works well.

If you're not a gamer, or have problems conceptually with that first technique, there's another I learned.  I learned it either from The Four Hour Workweek or Crush It!, and I can't remember which at the moment, so I'm going to summarize it.

Go to a public place (coffee shop, etc, with someone else if you like). Approach random person with a bit of paper and a writing utensil. If the person is in a group, all the better. Say the following as close to verbatim as possible.

"I'm in a class working on public speaking, and one of the exercises is to get more comfortable in social situations. For that, we have to go and ask random people for a phone number. If it's okay, I'm going to hand you this paper and a pen, and ask you to write a phone number on it. It can be yours or a fake one - no matter what, I'm going to throw this away in that trash can right there. [point to trash can] The exercise is more about asking. Is that okay?"

You, of course, IMMEDIATELY throw away the bit of paper without looking at it.

The beauty is this: It's LITERALLY a no-risk situation for you - you're not going to see them again. They have minimal risk - it's a public place, you ask permission, they can write a fake number, and they see you throw it away. But you also get practice DOING THE THING. It really does make it easier, after you learn that the world doesn't immediately end.

Between these two techniques - and learning that mammoth brains lie! - it can help you navigate situations where before you'd end up vapor-locked.

Understanding and forgiveness are two way streets. Unless you're a jerk.

I said it before, and I stand by it: the most important question on OKCupid is 
Would you rather date someone who almost never made a mistake but doesn't admit their flaws, or someone who often messes up but takes full responsibility for their mistakes?
There is only one correct answer to this question.

Because we all fuck up. Fairly regularly. We may have had the facts wrong at the time. We may have misunderstood something. We might have had emotional baggage getting in the way. Hell, we might have simply misremembered something - our memory is pretty fallible and easy to outright manipulate (yes, even yours, yes, even if you're aware someone's going to try).

Sometimes the best you can do is to acknowledge, to the best of your ability, what was going through your head, what led you to the actions and decisions at the time, and then apologize.

This quality doesn't make you better than someone else. It's not about the quantity or quality of your reasons.

Bonus protip: If someone calls your reasons for a behavior an "excuse" while you're still taking full responsibility for your behavior, that both says something awful about them and their basic understanding of English.

What does matter (aside from both you and they trying to improve yourselves, but that's a bloody given by this point) is that you extend that same understanding to other people and their reasons for their behavior. Particularly the behavior that made your life more difficult.

Let's sum up.

Do a bad thing, explain why you did the bad thing, take responsibility, and try to improve?  Good, welcome to being a flawed human being.

Someone else then does a bad thing, explains why they did the bad thing, takes responsibility, and tries to improve ... and you are mean to them?

Then you're the awful one.

Even if it's not a "fuck yes", it damn well still better be a yes.

I have had to remind people - women, let's just go ahead and acknowledge that it's only been women - that "marital rape" is both morally and legally just rape in Ohio.

(Even though rapist Brock Turner lives here again.  FUCK that guy.)

I've had to remind people of the existence of marital rape more times than I should have, which is to say, any at fucking all.

So I've got mixed feelings about Ferrett's post about "Mexican Dinner Consent" post a while back.

NOT, I hasten to add, because of anything he actually wrote.

What Ferrett wrote was a nice exploration of the fact that your relationship hasn't failed if it's not all mind-blowing sex and experiences all the time. He talks passionately (ha!) about the reality that sometimes you do stuff for your partner(s) that you just kinda want to do, and it's simply okay sometimes, and that's part of what relationships are.  It's kind of a real-world reaction to the "Fuck Yes" crowd, and is definitely needed. Good stuff.

I have mixed feelings because I got asked - I'm nearly quoting here - if it counted as Mexican Dinner Consent if you just gave in after saying no several times just so they'd stop pestering you.

Here's the answer:  NO.  It fucking doesn't count. It's fucking sexual assault.

Are there grey areas? Areas where perception and intent matter?

Of course. I can easily think of an example where I was the person asking multiple times.

But there's one big difference.

I took "no" as an answer, and there was no retaliation for that "no".

If it can't be withdrawn freely, it's not consent.

That's something Ferrett acknowledged explicitly with an edit at the end of the post:

It’s good to remember the difference between “a request” and “a demand.” In my personal terminology, a request can be freely turned down; a demand has consequences for rejection.

All the above examples are requests – if my wife was going to get angry at me because I didn’t feel like having Mexican tonight, well, I probably wouldn’t advise going along with her just to keep the peace. There is a VERY LARGE distinction between “Do it or they’ll get mad” and “Do it because it’ll make their life better, and it’s not something you’re drastically opposed to.”

Or to put it more succinctly:

Even if it's not a "fuck yes", it damn well still better be a yes.

There's always a price. Acknowledge it. Deal with it. And maybe change your life.

Pretending you're not making the decisions you are is a fucking quick way to not only be unhappy, but to be a royal asshole to everyone around you.

Dan Savage calls this the price of admission in relationships, and it's a bloody brilliant concept, and works for pretty much everything.

Here's why: You have to acknowledge to yourself and others that you're choosing whether to pay the price of admission. You are the one who decides if the price is worth it or not. You do NOT get to be a resentful asshole later.

Hey, she's got young children? That's the price of admission for dating her. Pay it or not. He's got a lot of debt? Pay it or not. Spin up your own examples.

You may not like the price of admission. Nobody's guaranteed that. You may think the price of admission is too damn high. 

I don't like that I don't have a Green Lantern ring. Deal with it.

This goes for all sorts of other situations as well. Think about a patient in a hospital. You have a right to refuse testing. There may be consequences to refusing that test, but outside of a very narrow set of circumstances, you can't be forced to do the test.

Where problems arise is with a patient who doesn't want to do the test, but doesn't want to face the consequences of refusing it. They're not acknowledging that they are making the decision, and tend to make things worse for everyone... most importantly, themselves.

Acknowledge the choices you're making. Acknowledge the reasons for that choice, yes. Acknowledge that you're making that choice to gain something better or avoid something worse. 

And maybe you'll realize that, indeed, the price is too damn high.