Misleading posts in Deepak Chopra’s Twitter feed verge on trolling

Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra, photo by Mitchell Aidelbaum licensed under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Susan Gerbic contacted me the other day. She was confused by an unsolicited message she had received from none other than Deepak Chopra on Twitter. To save you the click – it’s just a bare URL in a tweet, no other explanation. Presumably Chopra wants Susan to read that blog post?

More on that later, but I told Susan I’d seen odd behavior before in Chopra’s Twitter feed. He sometimes seems almost obsessed with the idea of getting those who criticize him to read his columns and blog posts. I had made a note to myself to investigate this as part of my bad behavior series. I thought it would be an interesting follow up to my previous post about Deepak Chopra’s employee acting as his sock-puppet on Wikipedia.

It used to be that digging around in old tweets was very difficult, because Twitter’s search function only went back a few weeks. But last year Twitter enhanced search to include years of old tweets. Using Twitter’s advanced search function (which has also been recently enhanced), I dug deeper into Chopra’s Twitter feed to see how often he does things like this.

What emerges is a sad pattern of a man who has almost 2 million followers (and a verified account!) acting as if it is vitally important his followers see that he is debating with certain key atheists on Twitter. He also seems bizarrely obsessed with getting certain people to read his blog. In the process I believe he’s skirting the Twitter rules on spam, and encouraging bad behavior in some of his co-authors as well.

So let’s use that enhanced Twitter search and look a little deeper….

Read more of this post

The Skepticism Convention Guide opens events up to all

Lanyrd logoTwo years ago this month here on the blog I introduced skeptics to Lanyrd – a website that compiles information about multiple speaker events like conferences, symposia and workshops. It can compile all the info about an event in one place for easy reference by attendees and others.  Since I’ve been promoting the site, it has been adopted by many skeptic organizations.  It has become the official scheduling application for The Amazing Meeting, several Center for Inquiry events, Skepticamp, Germany’s SkepKon, Skeptics of Oz and more.

As a convenience to skeptics and skeptic event organizers, I and others have been curating what Lanyrd calls a “guide” – a special list of just the skeptic conferences that are upcoming and listed on the site. The guide acts as an entry point to Lanyrd for skeptics.  It has other uses too, for instance an RSS feed from this guide automatically populates the list of upcoming skeptic conferences that is visible on the right here at the blog.

Of course, numerous skeptics cannot attend these events in person due to cost or travel involved or for many other reasons. Some skeptics only attend them rarely. If you fall in this category, you might wonder why I mention Lanyrd repeatedly here, on my blog and on the Virtual Skeptics webcast.

Last week I launched social media feeds associated with the guide, to promote its value better.  Let me explain why I think this is a useful thing for all skeptics, not just those who regularly attend these events.

Read more of this post

A butterfly flaps its wings on Twitter, and a vaccine map goes viral

CFR vaccine preventable diseases mapIf you follow the problem of vaccine denialism (like most skeptics do) and are on social media, you probably saw a cool interactive global map of disease outbreaks this week. It was created by the Council on Foreign Relations – there’s a picture of it here and a link below the fold.  

Just in the last week it was posted by many major websites including Kottke.org, Mother Jones, L.A. Times, The Verge, Wired, The Atlantic Wire and even Forbes. And of course all those posts – and the direct link to the map – were being wildly passed around on social media.

Whenever I see something like this going viral, I dig a little bit before I retweet or repost it.  Sometimes there’s a better version of the post to link, or the one you saw didn’t attribute it to the original author correctly. I like to make sure I send out the best possible version of something, not just the first one I saw.

When I dug into this vaccine preventable illness map, I found out an interesting thing that almost all of the major media posts missed. Namely, this map is not new.  In fact, it’s over two years old – it was released in late October 2011 as this press release indicates.

So why the heck is it going viral now?

I did a little digging and found an interesting thing. Most of the major media posts can be traced back to a single influential blog. And that blog’s post can be traced back to a single Twitter post that set the entire chain in motion.

Read more of this post

Follow me on TwitFaceTumblTubeGram! Why? Here’s why.

Social Media IEver wonder why big brands and major websites often have an array of icons somewhere on their homepage, leading to popular sites like YouTube and Twitter? Follow us on Twitter! Like us on Facebook! It all seems so needy and desperate, as if the business or site has a self-esteem problem.

And why try to lure you off to another site? They’ve got you there on their site looking at their stuff, which is usually a big part of the battle in promoting anything on the Internet. Wouldn’t getting people to go elsewhere be entirely counter-productive? Well, maybe. But there is a method to their madness.

You may be inclined to say, “Well social media is the thing these days, that’s all it is.” But there’s more to it than that.

If you are trying to promote anything – be it a charity, or a good idea, or a product – a key technique on the modern web is to maintain a presence on as many popular sites as you can manage. In this post, I will attempt to explain the rationale behind that, and how you can take advantage of it in your own efforts.

Read more of this post

Do Not Link allows you to ethically criticize bad content

Be sure to check the update at the very end of the article.

I’ve written many times about how skeptics need to take care when linking to bad information that we intend to rebut. Because links are used by search engines to measure the importance of content, linking to a piece of pseudoscience or misinformation (in the process of rebutting or debunking it) might actually have the effect of making it more visible to others. That’s not desirable. I would even say it is unethical to increase the visibility of such content, insofar as it has the potential to cause harm.

Do Not Link: link without improving "their" search engine positionIf you doubt my thesis, read this New York Times article. It tells the story of how negative reviews of a particular business actually had the effect of catapulting that business to the top of the relevant search result, thereby bringing it more customers. Talk about a skeptic backfire!

In blog posts and other web content, I’ve long recommended a best practice for skeptics to use the HTML NOFOLLOW attribute to prevent this from happening. It’s straightforward, it’s an industry standard and there’s no good reason not to do it. Australian skeptic Joel Birch even built a WordPress plugin to make it easy for bloggers on that platform.

In another post, I’ve documented how a similar problem is now happening in social media settings. Although social media websites usually NOFOLLOW user supplied links, the importance of Twitter & Facebook has led many search engines and analytics packages to ignore that use of NOFOLLOW. Not only that, but it is now known that linking to content in Facebook (even in private messages) actually adds to the “like” count on that content!

All of this activity serves to boost the visibility of nonsense and makes it look more popular than it is. It matters not how brilliantly snarky you were in your Tweet, the measuring algorithms only care about the fact that you included a link to the Daily Mail. This encourages publishing entities like newspapers to create more of the same crap. I think we can all agree this is not a good thing.

Thus I’ve long recommended avoiding this by linking in your social media posts to a critical blog post or via the corresponding Doubtful News item instead. But with breaking stories and the like, there isn’t always such a good alternative. Courtesy of Eric Weiss at Skepticsonthe.net, I’ve become aware of another solution to this problem.

Read more of this post

The Block Bot is unsuitable for general use in its present form

TwitterReaders of this blog know that I have experience dealing with trolls and spammers on social media. One of the most popular posts on this blog is my how-to guide to preemptively blocking spammers using various Twitter clients (which is sadly in need of updating). I’ve also written on how to report suspicious emails.

Most notably, I’ve successfully helped get one user who personally threatened hundreds of people (including me) arrested by the police in Montreal – not once, but twice. (That case is still ongoing, and I may still have work ahead of me – including potentially testifying for the court case).

Back in the heyday of that person’s serial Twitter spamming, some of us would literally receive hundreds of tweets in a row from this man. Usually his account would be disabled, but he’d return with another one within minutes. Even simply hitting the block button to keep your mentions column clean became tedious because of his tenacity.

At one point Daniel Pope and I considered building an automated piece of software (often known as a bot) to automatically block his accounts on behalf of other users. That way the first person to notice each new account could block him, and then the new account would be preemptively blocked for anyone else who chose to opt in to this service. Ultimately we decided it would be too much effort aimed at just one person. I was also concerned it might run afoul of Twitter’s terms of service, and the work creating it would be for naught. Soon he was arrested and the point became moot.

Early this year something very similar to that proposed bot was actually built and deployed by an atheist in the UK. This week, it got major publicity in the UK news media, trumpeting it as a potential solution to an ongoing harassment problem on Twitter. I assume this has resulted in a flood of new users for the service.

I believe there are serious flaws in how this service is designed and operated that make it a poor solution for most Twitter users. The media, focused on the larger problem of harassment, are not covering these operational issues. I will detail them below.

Read more of this post

Mabus Redux: Operation Archangel Gets Dennis Markuze Arrested

On Friday, November 16, 2012 Dennis Markuze was once again arrested by the SPVM (Montreal Police) for violating the terms of his May 22 suspended sentence. It took many people many months to track him down and convince the police to arrest him. This is the story behind that.

For quite some time the most read item on this blog has been the lengthy history of a character named David Mabus (in real life a troubled man named Dennis Markuze of Montreal, Canada). It tells the story of how skeptics, atheists and science writers organized on Twitter to pressure the Montreal police department to take legal action against him, after he made repeated violent threats over many years. It took many cooperating people, several police reports, a Change.org petition, numerous phone calls and faxes and much other work to make that happen.

This post is a continuation of that story.

In recent months, skeptics and atheists started to notice a series of eerily familiar posts posted under various names including “Operation Archangel”. They once again mentioned Nostradamus, James Randi and atheism. They began on YouTube, spread to forums and blogs, and finally arrived on email and Twitter by the fall.

Those of us who followed the case closely knew that Mr. Markuze had pled guilty to eight counts of making threats on May 22. We suspected immediately that it was him again. Others were not so sure. There’s much nonsense on the Internet, and some insisted this must be a copycat or troll, perhaps trying to rile atheists with the spectre of Mr. Markuze.

This post is the story of how those posts once again led to Markuze’s arrest by the Montreal Police. As in 2011 it took quite a bit of work to make this happen. Tedious, painstaking, often thankless work.  But this is the type of work skeptic activists need to be ready to do in order to get results.

You will also learn how the Canadian court system, at least in Montreal, appears to be less than optimal when it comes to finding a positive outcome for cases like Markuze’s.

Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,458 other followers