UniteBlue is a now just Twitter account—but not much else.

Upsetting absolutely no one who ever knew how scammy, spammy, and often nasty a group it was, the follow-back scheme known as "#UniteBlue" was shut down by Twitter in June of 2015. Twitter revoked its API (programmatic) access for numerous policy violations, and its founder, Zach Green, decided he wanted to go back to college, while his father (and partner), Adam Green moved on to new adventures in programming.

But because many of UniteBlue's logos are still displayed over thousands of people's avatars (most of whom don't know how to remove them);  because the Uniteblue hashtag is still frequently used; and because someone continue to tweet from the old @Uniteblue Twitter account, many progressives on Twitter believe the organization still exists, and that it and its logos still have some tangible significance. But they don't.

Unfortunately, consistent with the way that some people in the project had treated many progressives from the start, neither the founders, nor whatever staff-ish remnants of the effort remained behind ever bothered to publicly explain that the endeavor was essentially defunct, nor did they help anyone to remove all those "twibbon" emblems that it had so rudely plastered all over the Twitter avatars of thousands of former UniteBlue members.

Below  is one such twibbon, plucked at random from my Twitter stream (the particular user shown has absolutely no relevance to this discussion). Without a website, project or narrative to be tied to, the logo just lingers around Twitter as a ghost of its former self, which was never anything all that useful to begin with.

It's no secret that I always disliked the whole UniteBlue concept, for reasons I've discussed in my timeline ad nauseam. I'd like to recap a few of them here, mostly because I am tired of telling the story to those who ask privately. I'm equally tired of seeing that clunky #UniteBlue logo plastered all all over the nice faces of my friends and followers. It meant little once, and it means less than nothing now. Or at least, it means nothing very good. It's just time for it to go.

That doesn't mean that all friends, chat rooms, or other projects and collaborations associated with it need to go. Just the logo-adorned Twibbon that so many users still have on their avatars. It just instills suspicion in some (like me), while almost always misleading new users into thinking it represents some meaningful service that they should know more about.

The Brief Back Story On #Uniteblue

While many (self-serving actors) have revised its history over time, to many of us who were paying attention, UniteBlue was always a thinly-veiled Twitter follow-back scheme with pretensions of grandeur. It got its start when a sly character named Simon had somehow finessed (duped?) a well known Twitter progressive, @EileenLeft out of control of her famous @ConnectTheLeft account, changing its name to @UniteBlue, then promoted the rebranded identity to her many loyal followers (which were now @UniteBlue's followers). Eileen remains furious to  this very day about this abuse of her name, her idea, her followers, and her many efforts on behalf of Twitter progressives.

The all new @Uniteblue's initial pitch to Eileen's followers, and anyone else noticing, was a very deceptive core premise; that it would protect them from right wing "spam block hit squads, itself a fraudulent premise concocted by a paranoid right wing operative named @toddjkincannon.

Todd first developed the idea to protect right wing trolls on Twitter from liberals who were allegedly out to get their accounts suspended. He called this sham the #TGDN, which stood for the Twitter Gulag Defense Network. Seriously. Legendary media and Twitter troll, @MichelleMalkin, picked his dumb idea and quickly made it a BFD on her new "Twitchy.com" site, a service designed to monetize the spreading of conservative propaganda, and the daily irritation of liberals.

Enter Zack Green (@140Elect) and his father, Adam Green, who had been developing a website that "Simon's" efforts were ultimately meant to benefit.  They  seized on Kincannon's "fear factor" strategy as a way to market their still vague and poorly formed UniteBlue idea to progressives on Twitter. But it always seemed to be little more than a stealthy way to harvest Liberal account names that may have been sold, or used by Republican organizations for political counter-intelligence purposes, while simultaneously providing an impressive-looking Twitter platform that the senior Green could boast about to prospective clients of his programming and social media marketing consultancy. The progressive blogger Kevin Knauss writes:

While the protection racket got it initial notice (especially when they glommed onto my #StopRush.net colleagues who really WERE being attacked), Green and his father—fresh off their other social media projects working for Republicans—tried to reform it as a nonprofit; one that wasn't very well documented… or funded.  A wide array of suspicions, accusations, and assorted dramas then plagued the operation until things really went south; it was discovered that one of its board members, Bill Talley (aka@political_bill), was a (soon-to-be) convicted child-sex offender.

Despite all this insanity, people still bought into the idea that UniteBlue's daily DM spamming for liberal causes, and its very dubious fund raising campaigns (that never raised any money), were somehow making a valuable contribution to a progressivism on Twitter. They weren't. They were at best, like a tacky fraternity with questionable rituals, and at worst, a scam with a stealthy commercial motive that never really panned out.

Most serious liberals I knew either ignored it, or were openly hostile to it.  Despite the occasional innocent who didn't know better (who was often a friend or family member of a Uniteblue booster), most serious politicians and operatives avoided it like the proverbial bad penny.  None of this was known to the mostly clueless rank and file #Uniteblue member, who only cared that, almost by magic, were automatically (via the Twitter API) getting up to 2000 followers for every little effort, but who had to also follow that many back to get them. Often, many of these followers were spam or bot, accounts, but many others were right wing operatives who could infiltrate the organization simply by tweeting a coded phrase like "Join @UniteBlue."  These trolls would spam the #uniteblue tag so much that it quickly became all but worthless as a useful hashtag, utterly overwhelmed by noise, insults, corny memes, and rampant misinformation.

But for the average unsuspecting progressive on Twitter, none of these negatives were plainly in evidence, and the free followers were an ego boost for themselves and their new associates. And as with many clubs (and cults), even very bad ones, friendships and alliances were made that became more important than whatever the founder's intentions were at the outset.

While users may not have been phased, the skeptical (like me), were often viciously attacked on nearly a daily basis for openly expressing our doubts, and for sharing things we'd learned about the seemingly dubious #Uniteblue enterprise. Twitter and the web are still littered with carnage from the many battles that ensued with certain hard core #UniteBlue "supporters," many of whom exhibited behaviors that often seemed pathological, and which bordered on criminal harassment. A Twitter search using "#UniteBlue"—and any "epithet or insult" you can think of—between 2013 and 2015 will probably illustrate this point.

By Mid-2013, UniteBlue did indeed unite a few thousand people by introducing them to each other. It also popularized a #uniteblue hashtag that was used a lot because both UniteBlue members and bots were tweeting it 24/7.  But for the larger progressive Twitterverse. it was like a fragmentation grenade dropped into its epicenter. Thousands of other friendships—many years in the making—were obliterated in a matter of months, and much of the acrimony and divisiveness that it caused still lingers to this very day. Naturally, to both its hard core users (and bullies), and its mostly innocent members who weren't part of the drama, it was just a fun club of feisty liberals trying to make some change. Many of them still maintain this posture. They probably always will.

But it wasn't particularly useful, and it sure wasn't fun for its many victims.  And even taken at face value, "identifying" as #UniteBlue was always a bad idea anyway.  Whenever political tribes "fly their colors," it just invites infiltrators and ratfuckers to easily spot the tribe members, game them, and generally cast doubts upon anything they try to do. And that #UniteBlue logo on their "twibbon" just made it easy to identify outspoken Liberals who could then be duped into arguing with right wing operatives, just so their propaganda "discussions" would be retweeted to thousands of their followers.  (A search for #uniteblue and browsing the results will prove that point quickly.)  It was common to see trolls from BreitbartNews and other right wing organs either spamming the #uniteblue tag, or arguing intensely with anyone using it.  The noise level was often deafening at times. And then there were the #StandwithRand Paul Libertarians, and later, the aggressive Bernie Sanders supporters (the  "Berniebros") who used the residual popularity of the tag to this very day.

So all in all, it was no loss to progressivism when this terrible idea, which was implemented poorly, had gone south.  Now if only more people would know that it did, the remnants of it might finally vanish from Twitter forever.  To this day, I still will not RT most people using the Uniteblue twibbon as their avatar, nor will many progressives I know. We just don't trust it or anyone using it. So if you're one of those, and were wondering why some of us rarely retweet you, now you know. It wasn't personal.

So if you don't have any special attachment to that moribund twibbon, it, I'd suggest you lose it. As early as right now.

Note: it should be said that whoever is now using the @Uniteblue Twitter account is not doing any visible harm that I can see, and neither do they seem to be perpetuating the organization anymore. But they don't do anything to suggest that the operation is mostly defunct, either. I have no grudge or complaint against whoever runs the account. They just seems to be a legacy of the old project that enjoys a high follower count, and which is, at least ostensibly, progressive by nature.

Just Say No!

It is entirely possible that "Simon," Zack, and Adam always had the best of intentions. I personally have my own reasons to doubt that, but I'm willing to admit the possibility exists, or at least, as with many things, the truth is somewhere in the middle of two extremes. Regardless of intent, they had some success in organizing thousands of users, and props for that, but it was all with very little ultimate impact. 

My point in writing all this was not to stir up old battles but to make it clear that the legacy of Uniteblue isn't something much worth preserving, given that without its website, directory, and follow-back ladder technology, its very existence just confuses people as to its reason for being at all. It's now basically a #hashtag. Just not a particularly good one, as it really doesn't say anything to anyone about anything. Few people actually search for it—or ever follow it. It's just 10 characters taking up precious tweet space, more by force of habit than anything else. I am often asked "what is it for and why do I need it?"  I always reply, "nothing, and you don't. No one does." If you really feel your Tweets need a generic tag, use the more established #p2, #topprog, #dem, #femm, #lgbt, #liberal, or some other shorter signifier that says "this is of interest to some or all progressives."

Despite any value it may have brought to a few, Uniteblue didn't really unite anything. Nor was it every likely to. There are no good shortcuts or magical solutions to liberal organizing. Good projects aren't made solely with a hashtag and a twibbon.  They need thoughtful missions, dedicated people, and transparent policies and procedures.

And uniting "blue" was never a great idea anyway. Twitter is an international service. And "blue" represents conservatism, not liberalism, in many countries outside the United States. And as for uniting Democrats? Just take a look at how divisive the #Uniteblue tag is today, overrun by supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton throwing a never ending stream of insults and epithets at one another—much to the delight of conservatives everywhere.

If you're still using that Uniteblue avatar, I hope I've given you enough background and reasons for dropping it. If so, my work is done here. I really don't care if anyone follows the @uniteblue account, or uses the #uniteblue tag. And I certainly don't mean to impugn friendships, or imply that anyone who chats using #Uniteblue (or related tags) should stop.  Finally, I realize the #tag has taken on a new—and much more literal—meaning following a very contentious Democratic primary battle. (I still find it trite, but it's a trite that works a bit better now.)

I mostly wanted to explain the history, and encourage people from using that now pointless twibbon. It prevents me (and others) from trusting the user of it. They are almost universally unaware of the baggage it carries, and that the entire UniteBlue service has been dead for a year. It gains them absolutely nothing, but potentially costs them a lot in terms of credibility and/or trust.

Thanks for the interest, and your time.

References

There have been many articles and posts written about UniteBlue. I've lost my old file of them, but I will gradually re-find them and post them here. If you know some, please post them as comments to this post and I will place them in the list below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Twitter's new Shared block lists are well intentioned…

I myself discussed such tools years ago with friends and associates—often in public.  But, we never imagined such a feature being executed by Twitter without some kind of interactive host service to keep them accurate, current, annotated and cancelable. Yet that is what Twitter has just announced.  And many people are celebrating, but I fear prematurely. 

I strongly feel that any seasoned Twitter user will be able to see the very large — if not fatal — flaw in this idea that will probably make it unpopular, controversial, infrequently used, and thus, not really the significant anti-abuse tool that Twitter and its proponents think it will be. In fact, it will actually offer new ways to abuse users.

I've discussed it with enough people I trust to know I am probably correct in my take on this, but perhaps I am l not. So let me lay out my fears and let's see what you think?

The Shared Block list idea is very basic 

I "export" my list of say 600 blocked people to you (I really have far more), and you being a big fan of mine, "import" my list and voila! You now block everyone that I blocked. Simple, right?  But what if I blocked them:

  • by accident — this happens 3-5 times a month on many devices (I, like many, can block people in the same week and rarely remember who or why until someone asks or tells me.)
  • because of some transient issue, grudge, gaslighting, or gossip. Drama you couldn't care less about.
  • I just don't like them, or hate their position on some topic or issue that you aren't even aware of or feel passionately about
  • my friend @SnippyWitch hates them and would kill me if I didn't block them, too
  • their shoes offend me, and I want thousands of my followers to block them… just because I can
  • a political operative in my stream copied my block list to thousands of other operatives so they know who I don't like — and then tell them.

Do you see the problem? These are just a very few examples. I can think of many others. I'm sure you can, too.

But, you say, people can be selective about which names they import!

Yep, and that sounds good on paper. But in actual practice it will rarely if ever happen on a large scale such as this.

Are you likely to take the time to study and learn about every name you see in my list of 600 accounts (or even 60), most of which you won't recognize, even if you already follow them? I myself follow thousands of people I enjoy seeing in my feeds, but I'd never recall their names on sight. And like me, you're very unlikely to notice that one special account that you like, but I don't. Yet if you imported my list with only a cursory glance, and no investigation as to why I blocked someone that you did not, poof, they're gone from your world forever.

But wait, there's worse!  Twitter's new feature also has an option to export not only your entire block list, but each and every name on each and every block list that YOU imported.

So now, in order to be fair to some people that you know could be innocent, or just to be responsible, you would have to review not just your own blocked names, but also those names on every list that you import.  Considering all the possible false positives already mentioned, can you see the potential for chaos, confusion, and unfairness? 
 
And worse, is the vast Scarlet Letter potential. if you end up on one famous/popular person's block list that many of their close friends and associates use, you will be forever invisible (or tarnished) to those people, and neither they, nor you will even know it. Even if you're on that list totally by accident, you have just been wiped from the face of their Twitter timelines, with very few options for remedy or recourse. It happens virtually every minute on Twitter. Not a day goes by that most of us don't see tweets like:

"Sorry, I blocked you by accident"; or "Hey, @tinkletoes, I just learned you blocked me, How come?; and finally, "Hey @ShortWad, please tell @JakeTapper to unblock me, willya?"

The ugly fact is, that now merely being on ONE popular person's shi…err… block list… will result in perfectly innocent people being blocked by very large numbers of that person's followers, friends, colleagues, contacts, and associates, and then exponentially, to far more people as their block list propagates to their own followers.

People will just be inexplicably disappeared from each other, bi-directionally, cut off from one another, and neither the blocker nor the blockee will even know that it happened, let alone why.

And even worse, resolving the oversights, mistakes, or malice will need a lot of open-channel communications across multiple timelines, streams, and communities. Correcting even a single error will require everyone who imported the list to be informed of it.  And that's if anyone even wants to bring it up.  Who wants to be seen broadcasting:

"Hey,@Caitlyn_Jenner, why did you put me on your block list available to your five million followers? What did I do to deserve that?" 

Few of us want to go through that. Correction, none of us do. Yet if you can't see it happening, and almost immediately, you could be new to Twitter.

Any way you look at it, despite the good that was meant to be achieved by Shared Block Lists, I fear very bad things coming from this idea. Even if it only gains popularity among a handful of sizeable accounts, it could wreak absolute havoc upon potentially thousands — even millions —of social graphs and relationships, or simply crush Twitter's wonderful ability to discover new and interesting people.  And you're not going to care that not everyone is being harmed by this optional tool, if it is you, a friend, or even your employee being harmed.

Just reclaiming one important relationship, personal or professional, could require a lot of time, effort—and even embarrassment.

While righteously trying to address the many issues of abuse that exist online, I fear that Twitter has made a mistake rushing into this particular feature with no public feedback, a very primitive import/export implementation, and virtually no communications capability for editing, updating, annotating, commenting, or appealing any of names contained in these distributed black lists.

If I am correct, it is likely to be a disaster already happening, especially for innocents who get tainted and/or rendered invisible to large numbers of important people and communities merely because one popular account distributed their name in a widely distributed Shared Block List.  

That's my take. What's yours? Your comments welcomed below (they're moderated, so don't expect them to show while I'm sleeping.)

Further Reading

When do Twitter block lists start infringing on free speech?   By @mathewi

An exchange between @mathewi and @anildash concerning "Free Speech" issues

  • FYI: I agree with Dash. There is no free speech issue here.


 

 

I have wanted to share… two of my favorite podcasters, Driftglass (@mr_electrico) and @Bluegal for so long that I finally decided to stop being so f-ing lazy and just start doing it.

I'm starting with Driftglass's recent dissection of Andrew Sullivan, the "retired" blogger that so many progressives have been hypnotized into believing had some great insight or value for them. I always found him to be somewhat of an ideologically con artist; a 'brand' that was a supremely useful voice for the emerging culture of the radical right now eating our country.

Driftglass explains him way better than I could. This excerpt is just a taste of his essays and analysis about Sullivan. I link to much more below.  I

If this is your first exposure to the ProfessionalLeft podcast, I try to listen frequently. They have unique voices and takes on the news each week. And ones that more progressives should be aware of. That's why I mention them so often on Twitter.  Great messages from smart voices are absolutely useless if they don't reach anyone.
 

 

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