How to give advice on the internet without being an utter menace

If you don’t think you need to read this post because you’re always giving Good, Helpful Advice as a Good, Helpful Citizen, this one is for you. I’m sure you probably mean well, but it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that you’ve likely annoyed the hell out of someone at some point or another. Probably more than once. Maybe it’s a regular pattern of behaviour. This post is for you.

And if you’ve ever been in that situation where all you wanted was to make a funny post on the internet about your cat drinking water from the toilet, to be deluged with links to cat fountains and lists of various germs that may or may not live in a toilet, this post is for you, too. Just leave the link there.

Here is a guide to reply menace behaviour, and how to just not be that menace.

Why is unsolicited advice so annoying?

At best, it is draining and exhausting. Most people just want to post in peace. Unless you’re on Quora or the specific questions-focused forums, the general function of social media and the internet is not asking for advice about every little thing. Maybe it’s just venting. Maybe it’s saying something funny.

Remember Clippy from Microsoft Office? You’re just trying to write a letter, and this insufferable little paperclip is popping up constantly with his vapid googly eyes and awful eyebrows and that fucking condescending smirk and his horrid little bendy body and oh god the colour of that speech bubble, like slightly worrying vaginal discharge, and the “it looks like” why is it so passive aggressive why- Sorry, I lost myself there. In short, Clippy was an irritation, and you’re giving someone’s notifications tab the vibes of using Word in 1997, which nobody wants to go back to.

At worst, it makes someone feel stupid. This is particularly pronounced if you’ve decided to shower advice on neurodivergent people. It can dredge up memories of unhelpful teachers trying to “correct” you because they think you’re fucking thick. Thank you for telling me to use a ruler before underlining a title, Mrs Dobson, I never would have thought of that myself, for I am but a big ol’ dunce.

An advice reply can feel that way. It feels like you think I’m so dim-witted that it never would have occurred to me that you can buy harissa in a supermarket when I mentioned making a small batch of emergency harissa.

There is a gendered element to this, too. Mansplaining is something which most women on the internet have experienced fairly frequently. It is exhausting. It is patronising. It is the background hum of patriarchy.

You might not personally be mansplaining. Maybe you’re not even a man. But those who have been on the receiving end of mansplaining are sensitive to it. Your attempt to help can come across as mansplaining, and throw you straight into the draining and exhausting pile.

If you are offering advice to a woman, be aware of this context. Be extra rigorous in checking that your advice will be in any way helpful or welcome.

Anyway, that over, and a few weirdly specific grudges aired, let’s get on with a little checklist of Clippy behaviours, and how not to do them.

Is someone asking for advice?

Study this carefully:


This is a question mark. When it appears in a sentence, it means a person is asking a question. If it is not there, it means they are not asking a question. A question is an invitation for a response, and perhaps a request for advice. If someone’s asking a direct question, they are soliciting advice. In this situation, advice is probably welcome – although please work through the other points in this post to make sure you’re giving helpful advice.

When someone is not asking a question, they probably do not want advice. This means, you have not been invited to give it. Your advice is not welcome. No matter how much you think there’s a solution to their predicament or they could do things a little differently, you’ve not been invited to share your advice. So don’t.

Is your solution helpful now?

Sometimes it’s clear someone has a question. The question mark is in the post. Is your advice helpful to the current and specific situation that they are asking about? If it isn’t, then don’t bother. Here’s a few examples of relevant and irrelevant advice.

“I keep getting [specific error message] in Windows! Why is this happening?

You might think to yourself that this person should be using Ubuntu, because you think Ubuntu is much better. However, that advice isn’t going to solve the immediate problem of the error message in Windows. Unless, of course, what you’re advising them to do is wipe their PC, download Ubuntu, create a bootable flash drive, boot it, install and configure all the settings, and obviously read all the documentation – all to resolve the specific error message they were asking about.

Argh! My gas supplier is ripping me off with estimated usage!

Gas heating is bad for the environment and expensive. There’s good solutions to ending our dependence on gas, such as loft insulation and heat pumps. That’s not what this person is asking. Getting insulation and a heat pump installed isn’t going to solve the immediate problem of the gas supplier assuming this person is heating their house to tropical levels and spending all day gently sous vide-ing themselves in a hot bath. Unless, of course, what you’re advising them to do is find £15,000 and a builder, check everything is legally compliant, fill out any relevant paperwork and undertake home renovation work – all because their gas company is ripping them off.

With this example, note that there is no question mark. So any intervention sincerely advocating for heat pumps is doubly unwelcome.

What you’re doing when wading in with advice such as this is expressing an opinion instead of giving helpful advice. You’re welcome to your opinions, but when someone is asking for specific advice, it is not the place to share your opinions. So just don’t.

Did you just google that?

Sometimes you don’t know the answer to a call for advice, but you know how to google it. So you do, and respond with “hey, I don’t know if you know this, but here’s an answer I found!” You send this person the very helpful advice that you found by searching for it.

Here’s the thing: you are not the first person to have thought to type this question into a search engine. The first person to do that would be the person asking random strangers on the internet for advice. If the answer to the question can be found within the first few pages of a search with your preferred engine, then it’s probably not the answer someone needs, because they’ll have checked for that too.

You don’t have anything useful to add, and that’s okay. Go about your day.

Is there a minor grammatical error that you want to correct?

Just don’t do that, Mrs Dobson. If you understood the meaning of a post which used “their” instead of “there”, then the meaning is clear and there’s no need to correct it. All you’re doing is making someone feel stupid and small for no reason whatsoever.

Has someone already answered the question?

A cool feature of the internet is you can see what other people have said about the post. A less cool feature of the internet is that outside of office suites, no website has the functionality of making a comment as “resolved”. This means you’re going to need to do thirty seconds of detective work to check if the question has already been answered. Scroll down from the post, and look for someone else saying what you were going to say. You might even find a comment from the original poster saying “I figured it out!” If it’s been said or solved, you don’t need to say anything!

Handling ambiguity

Sometimes things are not as clear-cut as I’ve made out. For example, I used question marks in the section headers, and I’m not asking for advice. Or sometimes, it can be unclear if there’s a request for help or just a vent. Here is something you should say to someone in these situations, before going ahead and offering advice:

“Would you like advice?”

If they answer “yes”, then go at. If they don’t reply, or say “no”, then this is a situation where your intervention is not welcome.

If you have something really relevant to contribute based on personal experience, in these situations – and these situations only – your reply may be welcome. Begin by saying that you have had the same experience. Then, acknowledge how that makes someone feel, because chances are someone is venting out of frustration, or simply sharing a funny anecdote. Finally, add something which you found personally helpful and implemented in your own life. For example:

“The exact same thing happened to me. My boyfriend was constantly correcting me on minor things, and it was the most annoying thing in the world. I dumped him and never looked back.”

In this example we see first an acknowledgment of personal experience. Then, an expression of sympathy and the feelings involved. Finally, some useful advice that you applied successfully.

One final treat, for those of us receiving unsolicited advice

Obviously, please feel free to share this in case of unsolicited replies. But sometimes, you’re probably not in the mood for dealing with this. Here is an image of Clippy with a speech bubble coming out of his mouth to make it look like he’s giving the advice if you reply to the reply with it.

A picture of Clippy, the ghastly MS Office paperclip, with a speech bubble coming out of his mouth

I don’t know the provenance of the meme. I first encountered it in a tumblr post which has been sitting around in my screenshots folder for years and I can’t even find the original link because searching tumblr is a pain in the arse.

Thank you for reading thousands of words of unsolicited advice. Please implement it in your life.


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Using Twitter’s new view counters to see if Twitter Blue increases reach (it doesn’t)

A brief tl;dr before we dive into this project that I set for myself before immediately descending into madness:

I used Twitter’s new system of displaying views on every tweet to compare a sample of Twitter Blue users to a sample of users who didn’t pay real money for a little badge. Those who aren’t paying for Twitter Blue get more views on their tweets, probably because they make good tweets rather than doing crypto scams.

In this post, I am going to be as detailed as possible in my methodology so you can replicate my work to address the potential flaws and biases, if you wish. You can also download my data set here if you’d like to reanalyse, or run more analyses on the data because there’s probably some more interesting things in there about the difference between normal Twitter users and the Blue weirdos, which I couldn’t be bothered to look at.


Since buying Twitter, Elon Musk has coped hard with his divorce by making changes. This has included flooding the platform with Nazis, but more pertinent to this research project, introducing Twitter Blue, the special system for special big boys where you get a little blue tick, and you’re promised your posts will be boosted. He has also added a wee hit counter to every single tweet, which renders muscle memory of how to like or retweet entirely useless, and gives the entire app the look-and-feel of a Geocities website.

The view counter has been criticised as being fake, but for the purpose of this project that I set myself to, I am going to sincerely pretend it gives a true and accurate read of the number of people who have seen a tweet. It probably is somewhat inflated but I suspect it gives a reasonable ballpark.

Given the divorced saddo’s insistence that his magic medicine Twitter Blue will help increase views, I set out to use his view counter to address the research question:

Do Twitter Blue users receive more views on their tweets?


Sampling Twitter accounts

By far the most challenging element of this task I had set myself was finding Twitter Blue users as the test group. The big problem here is I usually immediately block conspiracy theorists, Tesla fanboys, or crypto scams. However, my block list is long and lengthy, and would involve also wading through a bunch of transphobes and misogynists, so I had to use different methods.

I considered tweeting something mildly critical of Elon Musk to summon them to my mentions, but decided against this approach as it would skew the Twitter Blue sample into those who were feeling particularly lonely and in need of attention that afternoon. Plus, my account would probably get banned before I had gathered sufficient data. In the end, I looked at the replies under an Elon Musk tweet, and selected the first 20 Twitter Blue accounts that I saw replying. They may appear in a different order to you, because Twitter is an algorithmic hellscape.

I’d initially intended to use a sample size of 50 Twitter Blue users to give myself a nice big sample size, but I entirely lost the will to live at 20 because their accounts are so terrible to have to look at, so this analysis is based on 20 Twitter Blue users. I cannot emphasise enough how thoroughly depressing it was to look at even 20 accounts. I’ve never seen so many crypto advocates, cranks and NFT profile pictures at once.

The control group consists of 20 users with no blue ticks. These were identified by opening up my timeline and selecting the first 20 accounts whose tweets I saw. This included accounts retweeted into my timeline. I have my timeline set to chronological, if that helps you to replicate my methods.

“Legacy” blue ticks – the ones who earned their ticks by being notable – were excluded entirely from this analysis because I’m not sure if that does anything to visibility with the algorithm tweaks that Space Karen has been making.

Sampling tweets

To get a fair measure of views without skewing based on one tweet that did numbers, I used the 10 most recent timeline tweets that each of the 40 accounts included in the analysis had made. Replies were excluded from the analysis, as were retweets.

If an account did not have 10 tweets with the view counter visible, i.e. they had not tweeted sufficiently since the view counter had come into effect, they were excluded from the analysis. Four accounts were excluded from the Blue sample, and three from the control sample under these criteria. To keep the total number of included accounts in the analysis at 20, if an account was excluded, another account was selected using the criteria above.

View count metric

The view count as presented on each of the 10 tweets for each account was used, under the assumption that it was probably at least somewhat vaguely related to the number of times it had been seen.

A mean of all views of all of the 10 tweets per account was calculated.



Accounts were not an exact like-for-like comparison. The Twitter Blue accounts had more followers on average than the control sample; and the control sample had, on average, an older account.

Twitter BlueControl
Mean followers14099.2
SD = 19526.2
SD = 5632.4
Mean account age
SD = 55.6
SD = 55.4
Table 1: Account demographics

Tweet views

The mean views of tweets from Twitter Blue accounts was 841.4 (SD = 774.4). The mean views of tweets from the control accounts was 1875.4 (SD = 1780).

Now, that’s obviously a pretty big difference. Despite having less than half the amount of followers the control group had more than twice as many views per tweet. I decided to go just a little bit harder, though. An independent samples t-test was used to assess whether this difference was significant. It was: t(38) = 2.38, p = .02

There was a statistically significant difference in number of views on tweets: users who had not decided to pay for Twitter Blue received significantly more views.


Twitter Blue accounts just aren’t receiving the views that organic accounts are, despite the algorithmic boosting that they are receiving. This is probably because they’re just making bad posts that nobody actually wants to see. They’re not even getting ratio’ed for their bad takes, because their bad takes are so terminally pedestrian. It is possible that the difference is so marked between the Twitter Blue accounts and the control group because I have exceptional taste in curating my timeline, but I really cannot emphasise enough how bad the Blue tweets were. It was an utter morass of crypto scams peppered with weird anti-vax conspiracy therories. Nobody wants to see that, not even other Twitter Blue subscribers.

Future directions

I have supplied by data set here. There’s a few interesting bits and bobs in there that I noticed while inputting it but didn’t bother analysing because it’s a small data set and also my girlfriend wanted to go to the pub, which was a better life choice than the one I’d made. If you have time on your hands, perhaps you’d like to have a go at addressing one of these questions:

  1. Are there indicators of organic reach within the control sample? The numbers in general among the control group felt a little more indicative of consistent reach peppered occasionally with a tweet that did numbers. Maybe have a go at smoothing and seeing if that’s the case.
  2. I didn’t adjust for age of the account or follower count. Does this make a difference? Try playing around with that.
  3. If you really, really have a load of extra time and a high tolerance for seeing the most tedious posts on the internet, why not have a go at running this analysis with a larger sample size and sampling which is not curtailed by losing the will to live completely?

Thank you for reading this labour of spite. I cannot believe I did this to myself.


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Are two thirds of young people “cyber-deviants”? A dive into a dodgy study.

Earlier this week, several news outlets breathlessly reported on a new study which had found that (gasp) two thirds of 16-19 year olds in Europe are engaging in risky or criminal activity on the internet. One of the authors, doing the press rounds, explicitly spoke out in favour of the upcoming Online Safety Bill, as a way of keeping these naughty, naughty kiddos safe from themselves.

This, of course, triggered my bullshit radar, and this graph in the Guardian in particular caused a forehead sprain from raising my eyebrows too hard.

Graph from Guardian article displaying percentages of 16-19 year olds who have engaged in the following behaviours:
Watching porn - 44%
Piracy - 34%
Tracking - 27%
Trolling - 27%
Incited violence - 22%
Sexting - 22%
Illegal gaming marketplace - 18%
Spam - 15%
Self-generated images - 15%
Money muling - 12%
Harassment - 12%
Hate speech - 11%

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Sticking watching porn or a poor-quality and free stream of a show right there alongside things like money laundering and hate speech? Let’s bear in mind that a sizeable portion of them are literally legally adults. You may also be wondering what some of these categories even are. We’ll get onto that later, because it’s funny as fuck.

Let’s take a look at the report in all its glory.


Every dataset needs good sampling for good research. This pan-European study used 7,974 participants, which on the face of it sounds pretty good. The researchers identified eight regions to explore and aimed for 1,000 participants from each. The regions were the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania and Scandinavia. You might spot that one of these things is not like the others, in that Scandinavia is not a country. But that’s the least of our problems.

In fact, over 37,000 participants were recruited into the study. Over 10,000 weren’t used in the analysis because they didn’t complete the survey; and almost 15,000 weren’t used because their responses were “low quality” (no information available as to how the research team assessed whether a response was low quality or not. Another 4,000 or so were excluded because they’d already hit quota limits – again, not any information as to how they chose which ones to exclude here, I’d assume it’d be the last ones to complete the survey from a specific region, but they don’t say so I could just make up any old shit.

So, the key takeaway is that the analysis was undertaken on about 20% of people who actually participated in the research. This is a bit of a shocker; while drop-outs can be expected, it’s generally not good practice to throw out almost 80% of your dataset.

I have a theory as to why drop-out was so astronomically high, though…

Multiple tests

The survey didn’t just measure these “deviant” behaviour variables (more on these later). It was, by the looks of all the measures they used, a heckin chonker of a survey, which also included the following measures and scales: the technical competency scale; the Emotional Impairment, Social Impairment, and Risky/Impulsive subscales of the Problematic and Risky Internet Use Scale; Adapted Risky Cybersecurity Behaviours Scale; an adapted version of Attitudes Towards Cybersecurity and Cybercrime in Business scale; the Toxic and Benign Disinhibition scales of the Online Disinhibition Scale; a few subscales from the Low Self Control scale; the Minor and Serious subscales from the Deviant Behaviour Variety scale; an adapted scale to measure deviant peer association; parts of the SD4 scale to measure “dark personality traits” of Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, Narcissism and Sadism; and also measures of anxiety, depression, and stress.

That is a lot of questions. A lot of participants would be bound to give up on it. And some are bound to not take a survey seriously if it asks you if you steal cars in one question, then goes on to ask if you’ve ever torrented a movie in the next. Come on. That’s literally this meme.

Still from a 00s anti-piracy advert. Text saying "you wouldn't steal a car".

The bigger problem of measuring so much, as the researchers did here, is that this means they’re conducting a hell of a lot of statistical tests, which raises the probability of something coming up as significant when it isn’t. The further problem is they barely report any results of any of the measures they did. This points to one of two dodgy research practices going on. It either reflects the “file drawer problem”, where research not finding anything does not get published, or “slice and dice”, where they’ll publish findings from the same dataset across multiple studies. Both are forms of publication bias, and both practices are fairly frowned-upon as they’re bad practice and make systematic reviewing of the research difficult.

Let’s look at the bit they actually did publish: the risky and criminal behaviours.

How are the behaviours defined?

The thing is, the definition of the behaviours in the study are pretty bad, too. Many are named in a way which sounds much worse than it is, for example “self-generated sexual images” in fact translates as “sending nudes” (or, as the researchers put it, “make and share images and videos of yourself that were pornographic”). ]

Others are just so broad as to be hilarious. A few favourites:
• Trolling is defined as “start an argument with a stranger online for no reason”.
• Tracking is “track what someone else is doing online without their knowledge”, which covers everything from stalking to looking at your ex’s instagram once in a while.
• Illegal trade of virtual items is buying or trading virtual items, a practice which is literally encouraged by some videogame brands.
• Digital piracy is “copy, upload or stream music, movies or TV that hasn’t been paid for”, which if you’re asking it this way, also includes things like watching youtube or free-with-ads content.

In short, some of the measured behaviours are very badly-defined and it is frankly a miracle that the numbers of young people doing these things are so low.

However, after doing yet more statistical tests, the researchers conclude that some of these behaviours cluster together. Do they?

Clusters of behaviours

The researchers conclude that, thanks to their research, “A significant shift from a siloed, categorical approach is needed in terms of how cybercrimes are conceptualised, investigated, and legislated.” Can they really support clusters of behaviour with their data? As far as I can tell, no.

There are many statistical methods for inferring clusters within data, ranging from techniques which look at “distance” between variables, to multidimensional scaling, to artificial neural networks. It’s a whole branch of mathematics.

The researchers used none of this veritable smorgasbord of algorithms, and instead ran a bunch of correlations as far as I can tell from their reporting. Then they somehow arrived on a cluster of the ones which had the biggest correlations with each other, for example, online bad’uns who are racist are also probably engaged in money laundering and revenge porn. It’s hard to tell exactly what they were doing, because the reporting of the method is very vague, but if they were using any of the multitude of established cluster analysis methodologies, they’d have probably mentioned that. When someone uses principal component analysis, they tell you about it because it’s a massive faff.

Conclusions from their conclusions

In short, what we have is a study with eyebrow-raising sampling methods, running multiple tests on the same dataset (without publishing the results of most of them), with some very weirdly-defined variables, and vaguely-described statistical methods. It’s not replicable. A journal probably wouldn’t print it, and indeed it wasn’t printed in any peer-reviewed journal.

It’s clear that the study authors had an agenda, which is always a bad place to come from when creating research; it generates bad research. Author Mary Aiken outright states the agenda in the Guardian report on the research:

“The online safety bill is potentially groundbreaking and addresses key issues faced by every country. It could act as a catalyst in holding the tech industry to account. The bill sets out a raft of key measures to protect children and young people; however, our findings suggest that there should be more focus on accountability and prevention, particularly in the context of young people’s online offending.”

Guardian, 5th December 2022

This is, essentially, a study which is manufacturing consent for the Online Safety Bill, a disastrously poorly-thought-out bit of legislation. And she’s out there saying “actually, it should probably be made worse because young people are internet criminals”.

This is worrying, to say the least, and yet it is entirely par for the course. The bill is a hot mess, and it needs some form of justification. This study, I don’t doubt, will be trumpeted around for some time, arguing that the delinquent kiddos need protection from themselves.

A huge thank you to some of the lovely people on Mastodon for talking this through with me (and sharing mutual snark). I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to write this many words about this without those chats. I’ve thanked a few who specifically helped in this post and there’s more quality snark and insights in the replies here.


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Predictions on the soon-to-be-called death of social media marketing

Twitter is going one of two ways. Either Elon Musk is going to burn the entire thing down swiftly in a fit of pique, or it will go the way of Tumblr: become a wholly unprofitable, entirely unmarketable, good, honest shitposting platform. At the same time, whatever direction Meta is going in… doesn’t have legs.

Going down with it will be entire industries of marketing grifts. Those listening tools. Those automated tone detectors. The lucrative doohickeys for identifying microinfluencers. The five-year engagement strategies and the ebooks and the webinars, all of them entirely irrelevant. Elon Musk isn’t the only one who is going to lose a lot of money.

I posted this on Twitter, but since there’s a decent chance I won’t be able to repost my tweet when the time comes to declare I’m right, I’m going to say my prediction here:

We are about a year out from the marketing industry declaring the death of social media marketing.

It’s an industry entirely formed on lines going up on made-up metrics and those lines are going to go down. They could introspect and identify that perhaps their entire shtick was built on some things they made up and told each other and amplified. But no, it’s the children who are wrong.

Where the grift shifts, I don’t know. It’s true that their entire pseudoscientific theory base and measures and methods will collapse. So to them, social media marketing is dead. And they’ll have to create something else in its place.

But it isn’t, not really. It becomes a space where the individuals with their etsy shops can thrive, free from the colossal forces of the algorithm-gaming industries. And I think that’s the best outcome all round.

Also, we can all enjoy some good, honest shitposting.


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Things I learned from having a mild case of covid

Last week, Lady Rona called my name. The lateral flow test lit up like a fucking Christmas tree in seconds. The confirmatory PCR came through positive the next morning.

I’m a high risk person. I’ve spent the last two years being fairly terrified of catching the virus because I’m aware it could be very bad for me. Even though I’m fully vaccinated and boostered, and got in early on that because of my high risk, I’ve still been, basically, fucking terrified of catching it. One of the first things I thought when the test came up positive was that I should start planning my funeral and pack a bag to take to the hospital.

I suppose this post is especially for people like me, who feel like I felt. It’s also for everyone. These are the things I learned from my brush with Miss Rona.

Sometimes mild really does mean mild

“Mild” as defined by governments is taken to mean cases which don’t need urgent medical attention. This can be a level of ill which is Pretty Fucking Sick, and much worse than a horrible flu. But for me, it really was mild. It was so mild I’m not sure I’d have noticed it had I not taken that test when I did.

I had two symptoms, if you can really call it symptoms. One was doing gigantic sneezes. Not even sneezing more frequently, possibly slightly above the average amount of sneezing I do at this time of year. They were huge sneezes though. Body-wracking intense. The world flying out of my nose intense. Whenever I sneezed into my elbow, it would be absolutely coated with sneeze like a nasal bukkake. That was pretty unpleasant. Also, for the first day or so, I constantly felt like I might sneeze at minimal provocation (I didn’t, usually).

The other one was a runny nose. A really, really runny nose that came in fits and starts, and when it was running I’d have to check the tissue to make sure it wasn’t a nosebleed. My snot was very watery, and any tissue it touched would immediately disintegrate. Most of the time my nose wasn’t running, and it wasn’t blocked up at all. It would just occasionally run like all fuck.

And that was it. It was annoying. It was also less bad than any cold I’ve ever had, and most of my seasonal allergies are nastier too. And the symptoms were gone after about three days.

Mitigations work

I credit my actually really really fucking mild case of coronavirus to public health measures. I received my booster in early November, which trained my body to throw any little spiky round boys out of my nose so quickly it was a bit too speedy for my liking. The public health measures in place also meant that even though I was sufficiently exposed to be infected, I didn’t receive a particularly high viral load. Research suggests the amount you’re exposed makes a difference to how sick you get, and I caught it at a time where masking indoors is mandatory. I’ve also been wearing an FFP2 mask out and about, offering me a greater degree of protection, and prefer to socialise outdoors. All of this helped me to have a coronavirus experience which was mostly lounging around receiving gifts, being waited on, and eating grapes like an indolent classical princeling.

I don’t know where the fuck I caught it

I initially suspected I’d picked up my rona from a trip to Borough Market, where it was pretty crowded, followed by a couple of pints in a beer garden which was also crowded and fairly covered. But nobody I was with that day picked it up. In fact, nobody I’d seen at all in the week or so preceding my positive test had got it – I advised literally everyone to check!

So I’ve narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities, having ruled out the more obvious suspects. I might have caught it off a coke can, but this seems unlikely as it would have entailed someone with absolutely filthy hands they’d just sneezed in giving that can a good rub down. I might have picked it up the one time I took public transport on my own, sitting in an empty train carriage for a 15 minute journey while wearing an FFP2 mask, but that seems unlikely too, on account of all of the mitigations. So my best working assumption is I caught it outside, specifically from an awful child on a scooter who coughed directly in my face.

Unfortunately, my partner and I had been operating on the assumption that we’d been exposed together, probably at that Borough Market trip, so we didn’t take any steps to avoid me giving it to her once my case was confirmed. She tested positive on Monday. She’s doing fine, she’s even less sniffly than I was. Still, oops.

The lateral flow tests actually work

I’ll admit it. I’ve been incredibly sceptical of the value of lateral flow tests. I was never sure if they were especially accurate, or if I was doing it right… until I tested positive.

The test I took last week turned red literally immediately. The test line appeared even before the control one. It was bright fucking red. It was so quick I assumed it had gone horribly wrong, so I took another. It did the exact same thing. I cannot emphasise enough how quick the reaction was. It was cartoonish.

Two days later, I took another test and I really fucking half arsed it, out of sheer curiosity to see if it would pick up anything. I poked the swab a little bit up my nose, gave a cursory little rub to each nostril and then swirled it in the liquid for a couple of seconds. It still showed a positive result as soon as the drops went in.

By day 5, when I could take my first test to get out of isolation, it was taking longer than mere heartbeats to show a positive result – I think it was about five minutes, and the line was fainter. Day 6, it was negative and today it was too, so I’m free as a bird and feeling a lot better about the sensitivity of lateral flows when you’re riddled with rona.

I didn’t kill my girlfriend’s dad

My other worst case scenario with covid was infecting someone else. And all right, I did, but my partner healthy and it’s sitting fine on her. The bigger worry was, the day before I tested positive, we’d gone for a drink with her dad. And he had taken a sip from my glass to try my beer. And I’d sneezed intensely a couple of times that day, so was probably already infected.

Was I about to have committed the crime of girlfriend’s-dad-icide?

Once again, it was fine. I am apparently not very good at infecting others with the coronavirus. He’s not even sniffing a little bit.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I could live with myself if I did manage to make someone seriously ill. Even though I’m officially allowed to leave the house, I’m being more meticulous than I had been about taking steps not to infect others. I am in a relationship with hand sanitiser. The big guns masks, even for just stepping into the Nisa to buy some crisps. My future plans are all very well ventilated and ideally outdoors, because I do not want to have that panic again.

Self isolating in a small flat sucks

Unfortunately, I live in London. This means I live somewhere incredibly poky (or, as an estate agent would put it, cosy). It was just about all right when I tested positive but my partner was negative and able to go out, do the shopping, take herself for a solo pint and all around give ourselves space.

It was not so good when she tested positive and we were on top of each other. We’ve been treating ourselves to taking long baths for some alone time. I couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of getting to take myself to a beer garden to sit on my own with a pint and book now I’m out of covid jail.

The regulations are shit. We all deserve better.

The equation has shifted and for all of us, even the most at risk, the risk of a really boring week is much higher than the risk of getting seriously ill. That’s thanks to mitigations and public health measures.

But the thing is, living with the virus doesn’t have to mean an endless parade of catching it and streaming snot everywhere. We just don’t have to do that. Something different is possible.

The risks of covid, in conjunction with other winter diseases, are still unacceptable, even if the vast majority of us – even the at-risk – will be just fine. And measures like masking and adequate ventilation don’t just reduce transmission of coronavirus. They also drastically reduce the other pesky bugs like flu. Wouldn’t it be great if flu season was much smaller?

And these last couple of years of the pandemic have demostrated just how we can do that. What we need is a cultural shift towards valuing disabled lives. A culture of consideration, being polite enough to wear a bit of paper over your face when you’re in crowded places or staying at home when you’ve got a cold. A culture where lives are valued over presenteeism

And more than ever we need to fucking dismantle capitalism. Lots of benefits to that. In terms of immediate public health measures, there’s moves the state could easily make as transitional demands: better building standards for ventilation, retrofitting schools, supporting people to be vaccinated, liveable sick pay and sanctions for employers who are not prioritising their workers’ safety.

They won’t do that. Which is why we have to demand it, and keep demanding it. It’s achievable with collective action.

Unfortunately for those in power, Lady Rona didn’t carry me away. And I’m damn well going to yell about how shit they are.


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The identity of The Fourth Man

Content warning: This post contains lots and lots and lots of Line of Duty spoilers, and mentions of CSA. Also, I couldn’t always be fucked to look up the spellings of names or even what characters were called, so there’s that.

Let me start by saying this: you’re wrong about the Line of Duty finale. It was good. So there. See, the thing is, we all need to go back to the premise of the investigation: Dot’s dying declaration.

Dot’s dying declaration led the AC-12 team down an incorrect investigative corridor: the identity of H, the mastermind behind all of this. They then pottered off down another corridor when it turned out they were up to their tits in naughty policemen called H, which was that in fact Dot was tapping out “four Dots”, meaning there were four like him.

Both of these conclusions, in my view, are catastrophically wrong, and I sat through several goddamn seasons of the show going “what the fuck what the fuck how can they possibly come to that conclusion what the fuck.”

Four Dots

First, the four Dots. This was, as the team said many times, four embedded police officers, including Dot. Their little list, based on the very very sinful rozzers they’d encountered so far, was Dot, Hilton, ????? and Gill fucking Bigelow.

Gill? Are you actually fucking with me? Gill? The lawyer who just joined the police? Don’t get me wrong, she was bent as a three bob note, but part of the embedded police conspiracy? Come the fuck on. It’s definitely not her.

There are three officers one can definitely think of as “Dots”: lifers with the OCG who have been strategically nudged into the police and embedded themselves, working there for a career rather than just rocking up there as a lawyer. Dot is one, of course. The second is Jo Davidson, who very helpfully didn’t die, so she could tell us all about the Caddy career, from recruitment at a young age through to entry to the police service through to doing things. We also see this arc in Ryan Pilkington, but he’s obviously not someone Dot was referring to, because he was probably failing his SATS around the time Dot gave the world’s most unhelpful evidence – ultimately, what Season 6 gives us is a bit of context for what the life of one of four Dots looks like.

And I am sorry, but a third officer who very much fits the Caddy career and could be considered a Dot, and Dot was almost certainly aware of, having worked closely with him in the past was…

Detective Superintendent Ian Buttons Buckles Buckells. I have no idea how old the hapless lad is, but he’s definitely younger than many, and even if he was only recruited around the Lawrence Christopher cover up, he’d have been young enough to be a Caddy.

So who’s the fourth Dot? It could be anyone. There’s an argument to be made that it was indeed Hilton, but we don’t really know enough about Hilton to draw this conclusion. We don’t, in fact, know enough about the early lives and careers of any characters to draw this conclusion. So I’m going to go ahead and just say it could have been Kate.

Kate is the only person smart enough to have identified that this “Four Dots” line of enquiry wasn’t even barking up the wrong tree; it was so wrong it was meowing at a deckchair. For goodness sake, a man tapping his hand while trying to stay conscious isn’t evidence. Ted is interested in one thing and one thing only, his hard-on for Reg-15s, and Steve is a Jack Russell in a waistcoat, so they’re not going to figure it out, but Kate would have. That she didn’t go “hey, lads, this is silly” reflects poorly on her character.

But, of course, the Four Dots investigation was built on such a flawed premise that Kate couldn’t have been the fourth Dot because there was no fourth Dot.

Who is H?

I feel like at this juncture, we should look at the question Dot was answering when he gave up four dots and the letter H: he was asked about the name of the individual senior police officer from whom he was taking orders.

This is a very direct question.

Now, I’m not currently bleeding my lungs out of my nose, so I’m going to be honest with you, maybe I would have tried to communicate that there were in fact four individuals that I was aware of who were involved in a criminal cabal of naughty policemen by blinking at the letter H and tapping out a wee bit of Morse code. However, I feel like there’s far less oblique ways of passing on this information when unable to speak but able to move eyes and a hand. Like, I don’t know, putting up four fingers and looking wildly at my hand to draw attention to it. Or just coughing out an internal organ to indicate the invalidity of the question.

What I’m saying is, Dot was probably giving a direct answer to a direct question. He was asked about a senior police officer, and he answered. It was Hilton.

He wasn’t asked about co-conspirators at any other levels, or the names of other mischievous bobbies. Kate asked him a specific question. Which he answered.

And yeah, maybe Kate was doing a subtly bad thing by asking such a specific question because she’s bent. But probably not. I just respect her intelligence too much to think she’s like the rest of AC-12, just glomming onto any old bit of information and assuming a criminal mastermind behind everything, based on the answer to a very, very narrow question.

In short, based on the H question, Dot gave up a name. He didn’t give up a mastermind. AC-12 just kind of assumed that one.

Dot’s lying

Let’s really take a moment here and wonder what on earth possessed AC-12 to put such credence in the testimony of a man who, less than an hour ago, had shot his way out of a police interview where they were planning on asking him these exact same questions.

Dot may be a bent copper, a liar, a gangster, a murderer and a bit of a shit, but he’s a loyal guy. Had it never occurred to anyone in AC-12 that this cheeky chappie might not have been telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Dot had a somewhat fluid attitude towards loyalty with regards to people he didn’t particularly like, such as Steve, but was ride-or-die for those he liked. Despite their disagreements, he never chucked Morton under the bus. And he took a few bullets for Kate, for goodness sake!

Yes, he gave them Fairbank, which was useful information, but I suspect the reason he was so willing to give up some, but not all of Naughty Policemen Club was fuck that mutton-chopped nonce. Personal theory: Fairbank definitely abused Dot, who would have been a child when they met. Hunter, too, probably. And those were ones Dot was willing to burn.

But not mates. Like Morton. Or Kate. Gosh, her name really is coming up a lot, isn’t it?

Maybe the real fourth man was the friends we made along the way

Ultimately, what I have been attempting to articulate throughout is AC-12’s investigation based on Dot’s dying declaration was a house built on the sand; a mire of flawed assumptions. It was never a valid investigation to begin with.

Ted bought into it because he’s a stubborn and old fuck. Steve bought into it because Ted did, and Steve’s a bit of a himbo. Maybe Kate did or didn’t, fuck knows what her deal was.

But, ultimately, they could never find the fourth man, because there never was a fourth man.

At best, what they had to go on was Dot, one of the many, many bent coppers that went across AC-12’s desk, reckoned there were between one and four others that he knew of. And that could have been anyone. In the course of the show, we saw a lot of cops groomed from birth to be tithead saboteurs. We saw others, previously “good” ones, turned – Maneet, Denton, Gates, to name but a few. And we saw some who were just kind of shitty by incuriosity, such as DSu Sourpuss Carmichael or the elected PCC.

But AC-12 got it into their heads that there was a grand conspiracy involving numerous embedded officers, and there was some sort of mastermind. Which was just, based on all available evidence, plain wrong. And besides, even if there was a grand conspiracy involving numerous embedded officers and a mastermind, this was only pertinent to one specific crime operation. Which is kind of a bad use of resources, to be honest.

Ted was interested in one thing and one thing only: catching one particular naughty policeman associated with one particular criminal group. He was obsessed, as were his subordinates.

But ultimately, the identity of the fourth man didn’t matter, and never mattered because, as the show keeps telling us, over and again, the entire force is corrupt. The problem isn’t and could have never been one, or four individuals. How can one break institutionalised corruption by catching this one guy? What would getting this one man achieve in terms of enacting change or cleaning house? It doesn’t matter. All the cops were all bad, because the police is bad.

Even our pals Ted, Kate and Steve, are shown to be low-key bent. Ted with his envelope of crisp fifties, Steve with his drug problem, and Kate with whatever the heck is going on with her inscrutable deal. And furthermore, they all displayed the same characteristics of the brass with whom they were frustrated: incuriosity, single-mindedness, and bad investigation tactics. We were treated to an unsatisfactory conclusion throwing up more unanswered questions than it addressed because we were shown six seasons of a bad investigation.

All coppers are bent coppers is the moral of the story. And that’s also the moral of real life. There’s no such thing as a good cop.


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The lesson in the Robert Webb interview: Inside the mind of The British Strain Of Transphobe

I listened to the clip everyone is talking about: Jesse Thorn’s interview with Robert Webb, challenging him very mildly on transphobia. It’s a fascinatingly instructive as to how the mind of The British Strain Of Transphobe works. When presented with an incredibly mild refutation of his stance, there was one thing he was incapable of saying: “I was wrong and not in possession of all the facts.”

This is the crux of The British Strain Of Transphobe mindset. It’s a core part of their identity that they’re smarter than everyone else. The vast majority of them start life on the private/grammar school-Oxbridge pipeline, where in place of education they’re just told this. The possibility of being incorrect is something The British Strain Of Transphobe is incapable of processing, because they’ve spent their lives believing they’re cleverer than everyone else, and this belief is integral to their belief of who and what they are. The British Strain Of Transphobe lives within an echo chamber of similar people. This is why, for example, transphobia spread like wildfire among the sceptic community, where many organisers are posh white folk, and it hinges on the belief of being smarter than everyone else.

And so, how does the British Strain Of Transphobe react to someone raising the mere possibility that they might be incorrect about something? Badly, because they take it as a fundamental attack on their identity as a person who is smarter than everyone else.

In the Webb interview, you can hear his rising sense of defensiveness, of something dancing around anger. This is because he is a man who cannot process the concept that he might not know everything, because if he’s not smarter than everyone else, what even is he? The British Strain Of Transphobe, cosseted in their echo chambers, can, most of the time, ignore or dismiss the thing which frightens them most – not, in fact, being smarter than everyone else. They shut out the messengers who might point out they could be wrong about something. On social media, they can put it down to trolls. In their vanishingly tiny circles, they shut themselves away from anyone who might point out there’s something they don’t know.

But the Webb interview was different. In this instance, Webb couldn’t dismiss the source of the message. He’d just spent half an hour talking with a well-educated arts and culture host – someone he respected. And then – wham! – this person Webb considered an equal smacked him with the thing he feared most.

Essentially, what you are witnessing in the Webb interview is the man having an existential crisis.

The actual subject matter of what Webb was wrong about was irrelevant to him. The thing which rattled him was a concept he and other British Strain Of Transphobes structure their lives around avoiding entertaining: that he was wrong about something.

Now, it’s unfortunate that despite having an understanding of the problem, I have no suggestions as to how to solve it. It’s just too powerful a part of their identity to challenge, someone living their whole life thinking they’re very smart and cannot be wrong. And when they are wrong, a polite (or impolite) refutation, “you’re wrong, here’s the facts”, just isn’t going to cut the mustard, because it’s not about the facts at all, it’s about their sense of self as a person who is smarter than everyone else.

At the end of the day, I don’t know what to do with this information. Maybe someone smarter than me can figure it out.


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This is the image from the mass violence against women that stays with me

A still image from this video. Less than a minute later, this woman was arrested.

Content note: this post discusses sexual harassment, violence against women, and police

Last night, women gathered to remember a sister who was killed. A police officer has been arrested for her murder. The police responded to a series of vigils across the country by trampling flowers, trapping and beating women, and snatching them.

You may have seen an image of the woman in the photo at the top of the post, just minutes later. A small, red-headed woman, pinned to the floor by police. Haunting, yes. But that’s not the one that stays with me. It’s this one.

It is a uniquely banal image, and that is why I find it hits so hard. It is something most of us – all of us, perhaps – as women have experienced. It is a man, standing over a woman, touching her, while she looks visibly uncomfortable. If you watch the video, you will see that there is no reason for him to stand like that, no reason for him to touch her like that. He’s not arresting her.

He is doing it because he can.

And that’s what it comes down to every time a man stands over a woman like this. Every time a man gets in close for no good reason (in the middle of a pandemic, no less!). Every little touch to your body, those touches you’re told you’re overreacting about. It’s no different.

This picture, perhaps, shows clearly the veiled threat in this behaviour. This woman really was snatched away simply for existing in public after the little wholly-not-innocent unwanted touch. It’s not an overreaction to flinch away from the man too close. He really is a threat.

Policemen are just bog-standard men with even less accountability. I don’t doubt that through mouthfuls of boot, men without a tit-shaped hat will defend police behaviour on Clapham Common. At its root, it’s because they all want to be able to continue to assert dominance over women, and they don’t like anything that makes that even slightly more difficult.

There is no innocence to the unwanted touch. It’s sexual harassment, whether the perpetrator is a policeman or not. It’s an assertion of power, an assertion of dominance, an assertion of ownership. And they don’t like it one little bit when women point that out.

And how have police responded to criticisms that maybe enacting mass violence against women – both the banal and the egregious – is a pretty bad thing to do?

Remember, they’re just common-or-garden creeps. So they released a statement with the age-old motto: “look what you made me do”.


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This picture shows how the virus is spreading

Cabinet meeting on 12/01/2021, via Downing Street flickr

They want you to believe it’s your neighbours. The client journalists howl about the covidiots, illustrated with carefully cropped images of people on a beach. They tell you it’s people drinking coffee on a park bench who are spreading it. It’s the young people, they say, the kids and their parties.

A shame none of it is true.

The majority of transmission of the virus is taking place in workplaces and schools. The photo at the top of this blog illustrates what is happening. Look at those craven bastards, blood all over their hands. This is not just a photograph of those who are responsible for over a thousand deaths a day. It’s a photograph of how the virus really spreads.

They sit indoors, in an airless room. You can tell they haven’t so much as cracked a window because they’re not wearing a coat in this bitter January cold. Not one of them is wearing a mask. And, to add insult to injury, this photograph shows that none of them need to be there at all. This is a mass mixing of households – six in the photograph alone – which did not need to happen. They could have done this on Zoom. They are doing this on Zoom!

This is where the virus is spreading. This is how the virus is spreading. On every high street you can peek into the (closed, they’re always closed) windows of an estate agent and see them following the government’s lead, tapping away at office work which could be done at home. You’ll hear the murmurs from the meeting rooms in every office block. People are going to non-essential work, and they shouldn’t have to. People are made to spend their days in non-ventilated rooms, mixing households when they don’t have to.

There is no evidence that poor public adherence to the rules is responsible for continuing spread. And that’s because it isn’t true.

Once again: transmission is happening in schools and workplaces.

Remember this image. This is what is really happening. This is how the virus is taken into people’s homes, because of vanity and resistance to letting people do their work from home. Because those in charge are too vain to wear their masks and don’t want to do it while at their thoroughly unnecessary meeting.

The worst thing is, it was those in charge that published this photograph. Those in charge who thought it made them look good. And those in charge who will, probably, like everything else, get away with it. So remember this image. Don’t let them get away with it. For every person who buys into their narrative of “covidiots”, show them this picture of the real covidiots. Unionise, and ensure that your workplace does not look like this superspreader event waiting to happen. And most of all, rage. Let it burn inside of you until it’s fit to burst.

Turn your anger the right way, at those responsible. And don’t let them get away with blaming us.


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Doomful and gloomful predictions for 2020

Welp, this decade has been a continuous stream of shit, hasn’t it? It reminds me a lot of the time I got food poisoning off an out-of-date salad, except at least that cleared up fairly quickly.

In great news, I think it’s going to get worse. Incrementally, but undeniably worse. Here’s some things that I think will probably happen.

Literally everything will just get a bit worse.

Sorry, I wanted to say more, but basically that’s it. You know how Boris Johnson is Prime Minister? That, and he’ll do a lot of bad things. You know that US election? Yeah, Trump will probably win it again. You know how centrists are repeatedly sabotaging any effective resistance, either through incompetence or design? Yep, you guessed it, more of the same.

This will be the recurring theme of 2020. The same, but more.

Kind of like that dodgy salad, except the pooping goes on into infinity.

I mean this in the nicest posssible way, but we’re fucking doomed. Just literally doomed to death, Doomy McDoomface.

…but there is something we can do

It’s small. I started this decade thinking collectively we could change the course of history, and we probably can’t. But we can help each other to survive what is to come. We might fantasise about going back in time and killing Hitler as a baby, but that won’t work. We’ve had chances to prevent the same problems playing out once again, and we’ve failed again and again.

But you know what we can do? Keep each other alive. Reaching out to others, giving material or practical support if we can. Showing up for others. And defying where we can. Make the monsters feel monstrous, because they’re fucking monsters.

We’re fucked, but like that scene in Toy Story 3, let’s hold hands as we plunge into the furnace.

Um, happy new year, I guess.


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