Should social media ban political parties?

I came to this interesting article via Mostly Economics:

In many countries, Facebook is one of the few alternatives to the government-aligned outlets that dominate national media ecosystems. That is why authorities have devoted so many resources to manipulating it, and why the company must take responsibility for stopping them.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/facebook-ban-trump-world-leaders-by-courtney-c-radsch-2021-07

Which led me to ask myself this question: what are the long term costs and benefits of having political parties on social media, and whether it makes sense to ban them from being on it?


  1. In these politically charged times, disclaimers might be a good way to start. This is not about Trump and Facebook, which is what the article I excerpted from is about. Nor is it about Twitter and the Indian government. It is about, more broadly speaking, the separation of societal discourse from discourse led by, shaped by and manipulated by, political parties. All political parties from all nations across all social media platforms.
  2. What is the aim of political parties on social media? Are they playing the non-zero game of asking what is best for their country (and preferably the world)? Or are they playing the zero-sum game of showing how the other side is wrong?
  3. Do they lead by example in terms of what societal discourse ought to be like? I know what my answer is to this question. If yours is yes, and you are willing to engage in a conversation, I would love to learn why my answer is wrong.
  4. My utopian societal discourse is one in which I take the help of others to learn what is best. And I hope to do this by improving my own knowledge and thinking, by conversing with others.
  5. Perhaps I’m too cynical when I say this, but this is not the aim of any political party on any social media platform. The aim of any political party on any social media platform is to prove “The Other” wrong. More, to insist that glory for your tribe/state/nation is all that matters. Still more, to insist that this glorious destination can only be reached via supporting “Us”, not “The Other”.
  6. Political parties play the zero sum game on social media. And we get sucked into playing that game ourselves.
  7. They’re not the root cause of the state of societal discourse, to be clear. But have they made the problem worse? Maybe I’m blinkered in my view, but I fail to see how this is not the case.
  8. The devil, as always, lies in the details. Are representatives of political parties to be allowed? If yes, are they free to make political statements? Who decides? This is not, I’m very aware, a very practical solution to the problem I’m highlighting. But I’ll make two final points.
  9. I’d much rather have this conversation than a debate on whether America should rein in Facebook, and whether India should ban Twitter, or any other match the following of your choice.
  10. If the two alternatives given to me are a country without social media of my choice, OR social media of my choice without political parties’ handles on it, I’m going with the latter.
  11. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. But maybe there’s merit in approaching the middle from this side of the spectrum rather than that one? (Yes, I know, third point. But this is my platform, and therefore my choice.)

Ways to Learn Outside of College

Outside of college doesn’t necessarily mean not enrolling in college. It means complementing whatever it is that you’re learning in college.

  1. Listen in on Twitter. I’ll use economics as an example, but I’m sure this applies to practically any subject. Listening in means quite literally listening in to people in the field having a debate about, well practically anything. #EconTwitter is a useful way to get started. This tweet, for example, was fourth or fifth in the “Top” section at the time of writing this blogpost.
  2. Learn what lists on Twitter are, and either follow lists made by others, or start creating your own. This list, for example, is of folks on Twitter who have been guests on The Seen And The Unseen (TSATU).
  3. We’ll resume our regular programming from the next point onwards, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock, listen to The Seen And The Unseen. Multi-hour episodes, well over two hundred of them. Each of them with guests who are experts in the real, meaningful sense of the term. Each backed with impeccable research by Amit Varma. All for free. What a time to be alive.
  4. Following topics on Twitter is often more useful than following people on Twitter, although as always, TALISMAN.
  5. Why not read about each Nobel Prize in economics, say at the rate of one a week? Here’s the complete list of Nobel Prize winners. Here’s the 2020 prize winners page. If you are an undergraduate student, focus on the popular science version. If you are a Master’s student, read the more arcane version. Of course, nothing prevents you from reading both, no matter what level of economics you are comfortable with. 🙂 An idea that I have been toying with for a year: a podcast about the winners, created in the style of this podcast. This also ought to be done for all of India’s Prime Ministers, but that is a whole separate story.
  6. Blogs! There are far too many blogs on economics out there, all of them unbelievably excellent. Some are directly about economics, some are tangentially about economics, some aren’t about economics at all, and those are the very best kind. Read more blogs! Here’s how I read blogs, if that helps.
  7. YouTube. 3Blue1Brown, Veritasium, Kurzgesagt, Sky Sports Masterclasses on Cricket (yes, seriously), and so, so, so many more! One of my targets for the coming months is to curate my YouTube feed the way I have curated my Twitter feed. Suggestions are always welcome!
  8. Podcasts.
    Amit Varma responded on Twitter recently to a question put up by Peter Griffin. The question was this. Amit’s reply was this.
    Alas, this applies to me. My podcast listening has gone down due to the pandemic. One, because I have not been in a frame of mind to listen for extended periods of these past eighteen months. Two, because my listening was usually while driving. But still, podcasts. My top three are (or used to be): Conversations With Tyler, EconTalk and TSATU.
    (And one day, so help me god, I will write a blog post about WordPress’ new editor. Why can one not embed a tweet in a numbered list in the 21st year of the 21st century?! And they call this a modern editor! Bah.)

Questions about Veritasium (as just one example), and how that might possibly relate to economics might arise in some reader’s minds. Two responses: don’t compartmentalize learning. Ask, for example, about the economics of producing videos such as these. Second, learning about other subjects (interdisciplinary learning in fancypants English) is helpful in many, many different ways. Ditto with Sky Sports Cricket Masterclasses. Learn about training like an athlete, and then watch Adam Gilchrist talk about training with his dad. (The first couple of minutes, that’s all).

The larger point about the list is this: there really is no excuse left to not learn a little bit more about any subject. Learning can (and should) be a lifelong affair. And the role of college, especially in the humanities, is to help foster that environment of learning, and to act as guides for young folks just about to embark on their (lifelong) journey of learning.

Or, to put it even more succinctly, we need to have classrooms act as complements to online learning, not as a substitute for it. And that needs to happen today, not some vague day in the future.

Twitter Stories

Back in the day, when I had structure, regularity and a schedule here on EFE, Saturday used to be about five tweets that I enjoyed reading that week.

Which, on reflection (and some gentle prodding from Navin Kabra) wasn’t the brightest idea, because that’s what likes and RT’s are for on Twitter. So how about maybe a brief write-up based on a tweet that I read recently?

This week’s tweet that turns into a post is based on a variety of things. First, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The Black Swan is kind of like Thinking Fast and Slow, in the sense that everybody claims to have read it, and very few people actually have. If you haven’t read all of his books, please get started. The order doesn’t really matter, but if you’re asking, my favorite is Anti-Fragile.

There’s a lot to like about his books, his tweets and his outlook towards life, and this tweet is one example (note that I am talking about the pics in the reply, not the original tweet):

Now, the original tweet, reposted as a stand-alone:

So what is the company about?

Nasser Jaber is cofounder of the Migrant Kitchen, a catering company and social impact organization that hires immigrants, migrants, and undocumented workers to both train them in commercial cooking as well as help gain their cuisines more exposure in the marketplace.

https://stories.zagat.com/posts/nasser-jaber-on-creating-jobs-through-immigrant-cuisine

Read the whole article! I got to learn about quipe (kibbeh, apparently), and esfiha (the spelling differs based on context, so my apologies if I got it “wrong”), among other things.

Twitter is a wonderful, wonderful way to learn more about the world, but it is like a garden, in the sense that constant weeding is required. But when you tend to it just so, it is completely worth the effort!

If you have had moments of serendipity on Twitter that you’d like to share, please, send them along. @ashish2727 on Twitter.

Thanks, and enjoy the weekend 🙂

Etc: Links for 25th October, 2019

  1. Images from the BBC that shows the extent to which Iceland’s glaciers have melted.
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  2. An article by a long time observer of cricket in South Africa – and all of what ails it.
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  3. Speaking of sports: geographically challenged football supporters.
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  4. If you are seeing more ads on twitter, this may well be why.
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  5. A useful set (well, to me, at any rate) of tips for making the rabbithole that is YouTube more enjoyable.

Tech: Links for 30th July, 2019

  1. “In an ever-changing work environment, ‘AQ’, rather than IQ, might become an increasingly significant marker of success.”
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    I’m never sure that lists are a good idea, but I enjoyed scanning this one. 101 people, ideas and things that are changing the way we work today.
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  2. “Developer Chris Wetherell built Twitter’s retweet button. And he regrets what he did to this day.“We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon,” Wetherell recalled thinking as he watched the first Twitter mob use the tool he created. “That’s what I think we actually did.””
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    A lament for the creation of the retweet button. I disagree though – I continue to maintain that Twitter (and by extension the retweet button) are net positives. The article is interesting throughout, and some of the suggestions for “curing” the retweet problem are fascinating – and perhaps overdue.
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  3. “In this so-called golden age of television, some critics have pointed out that the best of the form is equivalent to the most enriching novels. And high-quality programming for children can be educational. But the latest evidence also suggests there can be negative consequences to our abundant watching, particularly when the shows are mostly entertainment.”
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    You are shaped by influences around you – relevant to Twitter (see above) and also TV.
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  4. “WeWork was born as a co-working space based partly on the idea that it should be easier for entrepreneurs like Neumann to get their ideas, good or bad, off the ground. Its core business is simple: lease offices from landlords — the company owns hardly any real estate — slice them up, and rent them out in smaller portions with an upcharge for cool design, regular happy hours, and a more flexible short-term lease. There are hundreds of co-working companies around the world, but what has long distinguished WeWork is Neumann’s insistence that his is something bigger. In 2017, Neumann declared that WeWork’s “valuation and size today are much more based on our energy and spirituality than it is on a multiple of revenue.””
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    A very long profile of WeWork and its founder.
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  5. “Our reporting finds that Alphabet is already generating several billion dollars annually from Google Maps, an amount that isn’t yet material to the company’s financial results. But although officials state they are taking a leisurely approach to monetizing Google Maps, which is a core part of Alphabet’s search business, revenue is picking up at a healthy pace as Google experiments with new local ad formats within Google Maps. As Google Maps gets around to targeting more verticals, the only thing that might stand in its way from becoming a ubiquitous superapp may be users’ mobile behavior and regulators looking to break up big tech.”
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    The app that underpins a lot more than you think: Google Maps.

Links for 21st May, 2019

  1. “The latest edition of the World Cup will soon be upon us. Just ten teams this time, playing out their matches (including the warm-up games) in mainstream venues. No chance for an unheralded ground to get on the cricketing map – as Amstelveen and Edinburgh did in 1999. No chance for history to unfold in a far-off venue like Tunbridge Wells – which to this day has Indian tourists visiting every year, to hear about Kapil’s unbeaten 175.This time too, there will be much Geography to savour. Grounds, ends, winds and soils. Maybe even clouds on some days. Balls soaring towards the River Tone in Taunton. There will be schoolkids watching it all. Perhaps some among them will jot down names and trivia in the margins of their notebooks. Like this one schoolboy did close to three decades ago.”
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    A useful example of how learning about one thing can have entirely unexpected (but very pleasant) consequences. In this case, cricket as a geography teacher.
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  2. “Tech leaders across the industry are rethinking the role of their platforms’ incentives, in response to mounting criticism that technology platforms do more harm than good. Instagram is running a test where like counts are hidden to followers, but are viewable by the post’s account holder. Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri told BuzzFeed News that the test wasn’t about incentivizing specific behavior but “about creating a less pressurized environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves” and focus less on like counts.”
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    This article is mostly about Twitter, but the excerpt is about how tech companies are responding to the huge backlash they are currently facing. Is the response enough? You be the judge!
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  3. “The Muslim world can easily find martyrs but what it urgently and desperately needs are statesmen, negotiators, advisors, scholars, and intellectuals who understand their times and peoples.”
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    This is a part of the world (Afghanistan) I know very, very little about – and in particular, the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s – which is what most of this book seems to be about. I plan to read it, for this reason.
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  4. “And that’s when I realized that they believe they will lose very little by associating themselves with Nath. They don’t expect anyone to boycott the film just because an actor accused of serial sexual predation is in it. The issue is not that the cost of the reshoot was too high, but that the costs imposed by society for not removing Nath from the film were too low.”
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    This article is worth reading for many, many reasons – some of which are too complicated to go into here. But here are the main reasons: Shruti Rajagopalan is always worth reading, this is an economic analysis of an ostensibly non-economic issue (is there such a thing?), and well – more people in India (and elsewhere) need to read this!
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  5. “You get your Raspberry Pi and hook it up to a monitor and a keyboard and a mouse, then you log on to it and … it’s just a Linux system, like the tilde.club machine, and ready for work. A new computer is the blankest of canvases. You can fill it with files. You can make it into a web server. You can send and receive email, design a building, draw a picture, write 1,000 novels. You could have hundreds of users or one. It used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, and now it costs as much as a fancy bottle of wine.”
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    A very long, but (to me at any rate) extremely readable article that is essentially an ode to technology.

Tweets for 9th March, 2019

https://twitter.com/Alex_InDaHouse2/status/1102301337327464449/video/1

Links for 14th February, 2019

  1. “The best guess is that the next downturn will similarly involve a mix of troubles, rather than one big thing. And over the past few months we’ve started to see how it could happen. It’s by no means certain that a recession is looming, but some of our fears are beginning to come true.”
    Looking into the future is pointless, but this blog post is a useful summary of the answer to the question “If a recession were to arrive, what might be the likely causes?”. Paul Krugman lays out the usual suspects: China, America, Europe, and the trade war.
  2. “The purchasing managers’ index for the single currency area — watched closely by European Central Bank policymakers as an early indication of what will happen to GDP — hit 50.7, down from 51.1 in December, according to a flash reading from data firm IHS Markit.The reading was the lowest for 66 months — though it remains above the crucial 50 mark which suggests activity is still expanding and the region is not yet in recession.”
    It’s not bad, but it’s not looking good for Europe is the best way to read this. By the way, if you aren’t already familiar with the PMI, you may want to start keeping a tab on it for various countries. The first link today contains this link, but I found it important enough to mention separately.
  3. “…it’s important to remember that these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.”
    This is much easier said than done, and I don’t claim to be good at it at all – but I think it is important to train yourself to not have an opinion be formed, or reinforced, by reading anything in the newsA classic example of how things can go awry.
  4. “Most reports now don’t even mention the tweet as an instrumental element in obtaining and confirming the news. And that’s the fundamentally new and interesting thing to me: Twitter has blended in with all of the other infrastructure of the web that we take for granted. It’s the Google search, Google Reader (RIP), and sometimes Wikipedia for journalists and other news addicts. We use tweets as jumping-off points just as we use URLs, following them as conduits en route to the story.”
    Given a choice, I’d consume most of my information (what you might call news) from RSS even today – Google Reader is something I miss dearly. But the role of Twitter is underrated as a place to acquire consistently interesting information. Culling people you no longer want to listen to is much easier on Twitter than anywhere else – and that, to me, is Twitter’s biggest strength.
  5. “Hummingbird behavior is also of interest because they have been shown to be excellent learners. Dr. Clark said there is speculation that because they live on the edge in terms of their energy budget, they may require a great memory for where the food sources are.”
    Being forced to be good at something because of constraints imposed on you ( by others and yourself) is something that could be quite useful for all of us.  There’s other interesting snippets of information throughout this article.