Social Media for Humans with Love

Bridgit Mendler — photo by Myriam Santos (Billboard 2016)
As an entertainer, for years I struggled with social media because I felt like there was a more loving and human way to connect with fans.— Bridgit Mendler

Bullying bro culture has ruled for many thousands of years, since the first warlords harnessed religion and science to conquer and enslave; and steal the lunch money of those who were weaker. Boys in men’s bodies incapable of seeing the humanity in others, lacking empathy and compassion, not listening to anyone or anything besides their own stories and insecurities, wreaking destruction and pain.

Social media has only made things worse.

The 24 hour-a-day online bullying and mean gossip multiplies and accelerates our basest tendencies and leaves no place or time for escape. Weaponized algorithms target our humanity and feed our worst instincts and fears. They separate us into us’s and them’s to more easily sell our attention to those who seek to influence us to do what is against our own very interest.

What is good for profits is not good for humans.

To stop these bullies, we must give power to empathy and love.

Power is Action Potentialized

Power is action stored, aggregated and potentialized. That’s why money is so important in today’s world. Much can be done with money. People hired. Resources purchased. Politicians bought. Mercenaries paid. Wars won.

Money in the bank is power because it is represents flexible potential action.

The Power of Love is different. It comes from common purpose with friendship and empathy. The power of love is most strongly felt in the physical presence of others; the sight of pain brings empathy; a friend in need… needs compassion and hugs. Human connection and human bonds are stronger when we share the same physical spaces. When we can see with our own eyes, hear with our own ears and touch with our own fingers.

To give power to love and empathy requires concrete coordinated actions that give those who would love the potential for greater action. We need to build something on a global scale that has never been built before.

This sounds very hard. It many respects, it is, and will be. But while the doing may be difficult, understanding of what needs to be done is not hard.

Family as Power

In the distant past, before money, power was entirely relational. Our power came from our relationships with those in our family, our family’s relationship with those in our village, our village’s relationship with our tribe, and our tribe’s relationship with the other tribes around us.

Those born into a family with good relationships with others around them were powerful at birth. This is the kind of power that can be shared and gains in the sharing. This is the kind of power we can build and cultivate together.

Ownership is Power

Money is power but ownership is a greater power. Which would you rather have: enough money to pay for restaurants and rent and vacations at the places of your choice; or ownership of the lands that grows the food, the spaces that house the homes and restaurants, and the restaurants themselves.

Would you rather have enough money to buy an Aston Martin, Bugatti or Benz; or be part of the family that owns all three makes?

Owners don’t have to pay. Owners don’t even need money. Just ask Ivanka how much she pays to stay at Mar a Lago.

Queen Diz

In 2012, when my daughter was a precocious 2 years, I stumbled across Bridgit Mendler who had just released her first album “Hello, My Name Is…” with her first hit: Ready or Not.

If I hear a song I really like, I often buy the album to see what other jewels might be there. After I buy it, I always listen to the entire album or EP from start to finish to get a sense of the artist’s breadth and talent; and storytelling prowess. Often my favorite songs are not the ones they released as singles, or their hits. Listening to a whole work together in one sitting gives you a much better sense of who the artist is and what they care about. Blonde, Hold On for Dear Love, and Postcard are the hidden gems of Bridgit’s first album.

Bridgit’s first album is one of my all-time favorites, with many different songs that range from anthems to bops to ballads. Her voice control and range is as fine as anyone’s anywhere. So I became one of the Mendies — as we her fans call ourselves.

As a fan I also learned that in addition to her music, she was the star of the hit Disney television series Good Luck Charlie and that she played an ensemble leading role in several teen movies: The Clique and Lemonade Mouth among the better-known. Ellen Degeneres even referred to her as the “Queen of Disney”, on more than one show, such was her success.

It has been a while since she released a new song, and Bridgit has been relatively quite on social media until a few weeks back—May 2, when she told the world that she’d started a graduate program at MIT focusing on social media.

“As an entertainer, for years I struggled with social media because I felt like there was a more loving and human way to connect with fans. That is what I’m going to study… I would love it if you would help me learn from your experience and teach me and we can build something better together :)”
“anyone want to help me? anyone know how to code? if you have ideas for what could make social media better, let me know and we can try something out!”

Interesting. A kindred spirit in a common pursuit.

Kindred Spirits

The other reason I’ve been a fan of Bridgit Mendler, and Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Rihanna and Beyoncé is because I see them as kindred spirits who hold the keys to the best path forward for peace and prosperity for all.

Really, I do.

Success at a young age ruins most people, but some of us keep our humanity and connection with friends and others even when we’ve achieved great success in our field.

I’m not famous (outside of finance and trading) but I know a bit about early success. I started programming algorithmic futures trading systems at 17 and I earned my fuck-you money at 21 when I received my first multi-million dollar paycheck while working for the best financial trader in the world, Richard Dennis, who also happens to be a very generous all around nice guy.

While I worked for him, Rich founded and funded the Washington D.C think tank The Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies. Rich is a longtime Chicago Democrat who is on the Board of Trustees for the Reason Foundation, along with Drew Carey and David Koch (yes, that David Koch) among others. Rich once flew his traders and other support staff from Chicago and New York to Vegas for a big three-day party. I flew my own Baron 58P — N625P down from Crystal Bay on the north shores of Lake Tahoe where I lived, so I missed the two chartered Boeing jets. Like I said, I have some interesting friends.

After a few years, when I was 24, I quit finance and trading. I was bored watching numbers go up and down and didn’t find much satisfaction or benefit in making money for money’s sake. I wanted to make the world better and saw more potential for that in software and technology.

I saw a similar streak in Bridgit when she left Disney-owned Hollywood Records after her first album because she wanted to make her own music in her own way, and the mean men of Hollywood Records—who knew far less about music and her target demographic—wouldn’t let her.

I saw the same independent streak in Taylor Swift when she dropped her recording deal with Sony at 14, and a bit later became the very first artist to sign with music entrepreneur and former DreamWorks executive, Scott Borchetta, and his upstart label Big Machine Records; She too wanted to write and sing her own music: “I genuinely felt that I was running out of time. I wanted to capture these years of my life on an album while they still represented what I was going through”

None of us have college degrees. All of us left the standard success tracks. All of us have had subsequent success in many different fields.

Kindred spirits.

Common Pursuit

Prior success and experience working with the best in the world breeds confidence and the will to do more, to stretch. When you have a big heart this means helping more people in bigger ways. That’s what is fueling Bridgit’s interest in social media; I’d bet on it.

Having enough money to retire at 24 gave me a bit of flexibility, so I’ve been doing what I want the last few decades. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how to build a global family that treats each member with love, about ways to build better social media tools to organize to make the world a better more beautiful place for everyone: yes, even for the assholes.

I’ve been studying social media and supporting technologies since 2011, when I first started using Twitter regularly to follow the Arab Spring, and first opened conversations with like minded futurists and technologists working on social media and new ways of building a better global society.

So I too have been working to make social media more loving; to counter the ill effects of bullies, to stop mean people before they do harm. Even to the point of ending war and corruption — war and corruption being nothing more than bullies with guns.

The answer is in the connections we share with friends and family. It’s not what you can do alone, it’s what you and your friends can do together. The wider your network of friends, the bigger your family, the more you can do. I have many amazing friends, so I can do many amazing things with their help.

A Family Plan

The antidote to tribalism, nationalism, and all the isms that separate and divide us is a global family. Families get bigger. They grow.

Bridgit Mendler and her friends are on the most likely path to world peace and prosperity, to a true global family. A global network of BFFs is a global family.

Many male readers will laugh at this.

That’s because most of you, in my experience, treat young women as much weaker than they actually are.

Pretty can’t be smart. Young can’t be powerful. Women are the weaker sex.

That’s the sort of bullshit you buy and propagate.

So you see the success of beautiful women like Bridgit Mendler, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift and others like them as due to primarily to the men around them. Those beautiful young girls of Disney are pawns and owe their success to the men of talent, you think. Taylor’s songs are really popular because some man (Jack Antonoff, Max Martin or Shellback, for instance) produced them. They’re not her own songs, you say.

Pure and unadulterated bullshit. Utter drivel.

A woman of 25, with 12 years work success in several of the most competitive and complex businesses in the world: television series, a live sitcom series, several feature films and several hits in the music business, she has more power and broader experience than the vast majority of men in tech, even the super successful ones, ever will.

Too much success, too early, breeds Zuckerberg levels of clueless semi-competence. You don’t know what you don’t know and you don’t even know the limits of your not knowing when you’ve only tasted success. Zuck’s Facebook started out as software to rate Harvard women’s hotness. The objectifying of women—bro badness—from the very start.

Too much success too late breeds Bezos levels of self-centered king-of-the-universe I-alone-can-save-the-world arrogance. Success comes from luck and ruthlessness as much as from excellence.

Don’t even get me started on the Google twins. Success without failure breeds arrogance, complacency and sociopathy.

How can we expect wisdom or excellence in any social media platforms built by those who are not interested in society or other people and honed for the express purposes of extracting maximum profits, not benefits? From those who consider themselves far superior to the rest of us?

So that’s why I’ve been mostly ignoring the men in my social circles, except those few who have been in the trenches with those in pain; the few who are giving back to their communities. As a whole, men don’t have the answers, for the most part, we are the problem.

In contrast with success, failure brings breeds humility; and the pain from misogyny and bullying breeds empathy and compassion.

Bridgit and her friends could quite easily change the landscape within just a few years with the help of their fans and friends.

Rise of the Mendies

Mendies, are mostly younger women. So helping the Mendies build a global family of love and empathy will also help shift the balance of power from patriarchy, from old white men to the youth of all colors.

And just as Zuckerberg started at a smaller scale with Harvard and spread to Yale and others Ivies and then the world… any tool that helps Mendies interact with Bridgit and each other in ways that spread empathy and love will quite naturally spread to the fans of her friends, and their friends.

To illustrate the power of Bridgit’s friends, and friends of friends—in more technical terms, her social graph—consider this photograph of Bridgit with her friend Selena Gomez:

Bridgit Mendler and Selena Gomez (from here)

Bridgit and Selena worked together as teen Disney stars on the Disney hit series Wizards of Waverly Place. Selena played the lead character Alex Russo while Bridgit played regular guest Juliet Van Heusen for 10 episodes. They both had interests in film, television and music. They both were stars with their own Disney series. So they naturally are good friends.

Selena Gomez has 137 million followers on Instagram, that’s almost three times as many followers as President Trump has on Twitter.

Now, consider friends of friends.

At about the same time that Bridgit and Selena Gomez were starring in their own series at Disney, Disney movies, Selena and Taylor Swift became best friends because they were each dating one of the Jonas Brothers. They’ve kept this close friendship up for more than 10 years.

Taylor has 108 million followers on Instagram and 85 million on Twitter.

Finally, consider a close friend of Taylor’s, supermodel Karlie Kloss:

Karlie, like Bridgit, is a self-described “total geek” who founded Kode with Klossy in 2015 to teach high-school-aged women how to program computers in two-week bootcamps over the summer. This year, they will teach 1,000 girls how to code at 50 camps held in 25 U.S. cities.

So, we have a large group of friends who each have other friends. Together they could quite easily launch a new and better social network. Which brings us back to Bridgit.

Bridgit is working on the “new and better” part. I want to help her because I am a fan, because we share the same goals, and because she can deliver on the hard part of launching any new social media (see: Metcalf’s Law). You need people to make it work. Lots of them.

Bridgit, Selena, Taylor and Karlie all have dedicated much effort and personal time helping their fans and others who are less fortunate. They live empathy and love. And there are many others in the same circles: Rihanna, Beyoncé, Zendaya, a few of the older generations like Oprah and Ellen, and not a few men in disadvantaged communities are also doing great work. In isolation each may not be that visible to those who don’t know them, in aggregate their impact is huge and growing.

Bring all who are doing good together in a new social media platform that harmonizes and improves and we can change the world.

Sooner than you think possible.

Now for a Few Good Ideas

Each of the following ideas could be their own article so I will give an overview here, not a comprehensive detailed plan. In some cases, we’d want to try several different variations on similar ideas to see which ones work best.

Women owned—as should be obvious from world history and recent events: mostly men start wars. Yet women and children suffer under them. Mostly men bully and use their power to harm others for personal gain. Mostly women and children suffer. Men hold the power to do these things because men own most everything. Men control most everything.

So one way to make sure that love drives the network is to restrict it to majority women ownership. This way greater and greater success will increase the relative power of women and decrease the relative power of men. Imagine how much good could be done if 100 million women controlled Facebook instead of one man.

The value in a social network comes from the people so why should the benefits not also flow to those people.

Troll and bully filters—there are ways to keep the trolls out while still allowing people to speak anonymously in certain contexts; ways to set community rules which stop online bullying.

It all starts with identity verification performed on a peer-to-peer basis. One way this could work is that when you join, each prospective member would agree to verify at least three other new members, who each in turn will verify three others. When you join you get verified by three separate members from three distinct social groups which makes it harder for people to game the system by vouching for their friends who are also bullies or trolls.

After prospects sign up, the system schedules a group video call where at least three existing members visually verify the age range and identity of prospective new members, and learn about the new member to find out how and where they fit into the family. Verification can also record numbers for government issued IDs for prospects old enough to have them.

After a prospect joins, any early problematic behavior or especially egregious violations of community norms will trigger helpful intervention and more thorough identity check by more experienced members with the authority to take more drastic action, like a site-wide all-community silence or ban.

Various communities and subgroups will have different rules and tolerances for certain kinds of behavior like language or tone. Some online gamer groups, for example, might enjoy banter among team mates and friends with seemingly harsh words: “John, you’re such an asshole.” “Shut the fuck up already Jim.”; etc.

This very same language directed towards people who don’t know you in other groups is likely to be read as extremely offensive and perhaps bullying. Some groups might discuss their sexual practices with explicit language that some parents will want to keep from their children. The key is to make any particular group’s expectations and norms obvious using color coding and other visual clues to the expectations and tolerances of each group.

Trolls and online bullies are given negative points by members out of a daily allocation of such points. After reaching community-set “silence thresholds” for bad behavior, the offenders communications disappears from those communities for a penalty period.

Penalties also escalate. For minor offenses, something like: first time: one day’s silence: second time: one week’s silence; third time in a year: one month’s silence; fourth time in a year: one year’s silence; with one year being the maximum penalty.

Even when using avatars or alternate identities we can build the system so you can’t escape the karma of your actions because the system would be able to connect any negative rating points from activities done using a pseudonym or avatar to the actual individual human making the negative comments or posts. Since we know that everyone on the system is an actual person and explicit identification checking will eliminate sock-puppets, no one will be able to harass and bully with impunity. They will get silenced and they won’t be able to join again using another name.

It might be really hard to get a venture funded startup to follow this strategy because their investors won’t want to make it too hard to join.

In contrast, a group of fans who are specifically joining to avoid the trolls and bullies on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram have different motivations and will be willing to go through a little more trouble when joining. Besides, it will be much more fun to join a group when you get to have a video (or real life) interview with people who will help you fit into the right places based on your personal story and dreams.

Safe havens and group counseling — specific communities can be nurtured for those who want or need help making friends, overcoming difficulties and coping with trauma and disabilities. In a loving family, if someone is suffering there are those you can turn to for help and a listening ear. How much suicide, addiction, and pain comes from loneliness and lack of friends or family that will listen.

Helplines work, but they aren’t as good as knowing there are others you could meet in real life that have been through the same struggles. Group video therapy that’s organized and structured to meet you where you are can help more people than helplines and groups tied only to physical meeting places.

Are you shy and fearful? There’s a group for you. Are you loud and obnoxious at times? There’s a group for you run by people who will love you at your most obnoxious. If we organize around and structure to support the inherent differences in personalities and experiences, we can help each other better.

We can’t provide all the answers but we can do a better job than any one-size-fits-all approaches tailored to a nonexistent “average human.” We are all different and we can organize and account for that difference.

Fan-organized events—fans can organize themselves for various activities like: meeting up in real life, raising money for their favorite causes, helping each other in difficult times, helping each other connect with others in the larger network, making a movie, performing science experiments and research etc. When we help people organize for whatever they find important, we help them so they can help others in the future, and in that way love spreads and grows.

Guardian Angels — Imagine you are a woman walking home at night and you think someone is following you. You are afraid because you have been robbed or assaulted before, and you don’t know the neighborhood.

What if you could press a button on an app in your phone or smart-watch to alert your friends and others that you felt afraid. Very quickly after pressing it, you are notified that three volunteers who will keep an eye out for your safety, are tracking your walk home on their phones and computers. If you are especially afraid of men who you worry might use the system to stalk you, then you can request that only other women, or only your friends and family get notified of your location as you walk home.

If you like, some of them who are nearby could even join you as you walk, or trail back a block or so to keep you from worrying so you are less likely to become a target of violence, and you feel safer. If you are especially panicked, you could immediately connect via voice to those who are monitoring you so you don’t have to worry about someone taking your phone, leaving you with no way or time to call for help.

This makes you less afraid and connects you more with your neighbors and community. You make new friends and love grows.

2018–05–30 UPDATE: A few days after posting this article, I noted on Twitter that @kodewithklossy posted about an alum, Amanda Southworth, being on the front page of iTunes for an App called Verena. Note the description from the article:

…Verena, which Southwork created to help members of the LGBTQ+ community stay safe. Should you find yourself in a threatening situation, the app can alert a list of your trusted contacts or put you in touch with a support hotline or the police. The app’s incident log makes it easy to document threats or harassment you’ve experienced.

Please go to the original article at the App Store if you have an iPhone, there is a lot more interesting details. The Verena app and young women like Amanda are exactly why I am convinced that young women will be the driving force for the change we need to bring compassion, love and empathy to the world, and exactly why Karlie Kloss was in this article. :-) — END 2018–05–30 UPDATE

A Karmic Bidet—for flushing out assholes, bullies, rapists, harassers and jerks. It is very hard to stand up to those with power when that power is so often abused. One help is strength in numbers.

When the first woman stands up in public and confronts their harasser, abuser, or rapist, others will often come forward and say #MeToo! Once there are more than a few victims speaking publicly, it is much easier for other victims to speak because they know they that a large group will be heard so the abuser or perp will be called to account.

This works for those who are famous or in positions of power at well known companies because these stories make the news so the other victims can find out about each other.

What about the assholes and abusers who are not so famous? The ones in our schools and our workplaces. The restaurant managers, not the CEOs. How can we help their victims get justice?

We can change the question from: Do you want to be the first one to confront your abuser?

To: Would you stand up if at least 2 others do? What about 5? 10? 15 or 20?

If five women report someone they could remain anonymous at first and still find out when at least five others report the same abuser that there are five. At that point any of them could choose to go public knowing they will be heard as a group of at least the number they specified.

If 100 different people in the same company report harassment by five or six different men or women in power; that will be a problem that can’t be ignored. Imagine if Michigan State had this sort of system…

Holding each other accountable

Right now the police, corporate human resource departments and school administrations are part of the problem. People don’t want to risk talking with the groups responsible for protecting them because those groups so often work to hide and cover up; blame the victims rather than address the real problems. Or perhaps they simply choose not to believe that Johnny or Travis would do such a thing.

We can do better. A social media system that compassionately holds everyone accountable for their behavior can make it easier for victims to be heard. If victims know there will be an independent investigation made by a group they trust, they will be far more likely to report abusers.

Calling out abusers in public, early and every time; that’s how we stop the harm caused by abuse of power and position.

Want to Help?

There are many other good ideas we can make possible with the right start and a focus on technology that helps facilitate human contact, compassion and joy. And, I could go on and on with much more detail on how to proceed; and I could point out many of my friends who know as much or more as I in various specific domains; but time is short and this is already a lengthy read… so I’ll stop here for now.

If you like any of these ideas and want to help build social tools that help us build our capacities for empathy and love while making the world a better place, please reach out to me:

Twitter: @inflect0r
IG: @inflector

We could use your help.

So please clap and spread this article (with a call out to @bridgitmendler on Twitter please :-)