Buying social media friends and followers, wholesale.

This is a dark art. It raises many questions, but (what should have been unsurprising) is how the market has developed. The NY Times has an investigation.


“Manufacturers” create Twitter bots. These come in high-quality from, usually copied from an inactive Twitter account (but sometime an active one), with a copied picture and ID. There are also low-quality bots which do not copy a real-life person and are super easy to spot.


These are wholesalers (eg Peakerr) and some are not available to individuals only “retailers”.


The NY Times exposed one such retailer Devumi, which has a large number of celebrity and political clients.


These bots can then be used to amplify your message or any message (realnews or fakenews), or denigrate other messages.


While, the bots will not likely create “true engagement” so not likely to help sell a product directly. They can be very good at pushing an agenda indirectly.




-follower count is used to gain influencer contracts with real brands

-a useful promotion (eg Go Out and Vote) is targeted only at a certain segment (eg target only >65s will skew the Brexit vote)

-obscuring realnews with fakenews


There is also evidence that many advertising clicks (eg FB) are going to bots and not real accounts resulting in real advertising money being lost.


While Twitter is more open to bots (less checks), IG, FB and LI can all have bots as well. Or even multiple simply fake accounts maintained by real human agents.


Or, simply those who can use the data more sophisticatedly.  Eg a right wing org can try and discourage young voters from bothering to vote, while a left wing org should be targeting its ad spending on the under 25 group.


Imagine if the UK Remain group had spent £1m on FB adverts to under 25s encouraging them to vote with a good advert. The under 25 turnout was <35% vs the >65s with a >80% turnout.


Is that weaponising democracy? Certainly it seems like savvy agents for various governments and other organisations were more savvy than the platforms themselves, and on the the face of it, continue to do so.

More thoughts:  My Financial Times opinion article.   How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man.      

If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try:  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Or Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude or investor Ray Dalio on  on Principles.

Cross fertilise. Read about the autistic mind here

Farewell, Ursula K Le Guin.

One of my favourite authors, Ursula K Le Guin passed away this week. Amongst many things, she showed me that you have good books and you have bad books, the “genre” of the book doesn’t really matter. So Le Guin is famous for Science Fiction and Fantasy, but mostly I simply treasure her wonderful books.  I posted on her writing craft book here, and her on literature as a manual for life.


In her later life, she kept a blog (recent interviews here) which is still a treasure trove and much better than my blog. If only mine could be so rich over time.  If you are a fan of cats, then you should read through her blog as though she didn’t write books in her last years, she wrote extensively about her cat. The Annals of Pard.

“As I see it, writing and the arts (and the sciences, and all learning) don’t play a role in ensuring our freedom; they are our freedom — the heart of it.” — UKL. 30 September 2017.

David Mitchell (of Reasons I Jump fame and father of an ASD child, and more famously a novelist) writes about his encounter with her and her influence.

I leave you with her reply to George Zebrowski, who asked her to blurb an anthology of science fiction that contained precisely no women:

"I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here."

And her “A Few Words to a Young Writer”

Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn't talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.


A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.

To everything - A time

I rediscovered (for the second time) a poem from Ecclesiastes, which I last looked up in 2008. The cycle is almost 10 years later.  In some ways we are at a peak (eg stock market prices) and in other ways we are at a trough.


To everything – a season, and a time to every delight under the heavens:

A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck the planted.

A time to slay, and a time to heal. A time to break down, and a time to build up.

A time to cry, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to scatter away stones, and a time to pile up stones. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embracing.

A time to seek, and a time to destroy. A time to keep, and a time to throw away.

A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to be silent, and a time to speak.

A time to love, and a time to hate. A time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3. [Young’s literal / King James / Yeoh translation]

Zadie Smith. Writing Tips.

In 2010, The Guardian made a series asking for writing tips. Here are Zadie Smith’s:

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

  3. Don’t romanticize your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.

  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Zadie Smith and Jeffrey Eugenides (New Yorker bios) sat down in then October 2016 New Yorker Festival discuss writing habits. The two agreed that eight hundred words made for a good day (though Zadie as a child could write more). Eugenides spends six to eight hours at his desk in a sitting, while Smith believes that her work goes bad after four.  More in the conversation below.


More writing tips on style here (writing style tips ); from Philip

She has said: "It might not always feel meditative, but when the book is very good you'll notice it is because time passes in a strange way in a book you love… four hours you didn't even notice, you haven't even moved from the sofa. To me that's kind of the ideal writing mind."

(as an aside, to my mind she is describing what positive psychology calls Flow studied by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi)

She doesn’t glamourise being a writer, but she has written some good perspective as well:  “Some writers are the kind of solo violinists who need complete silence to tune their instruments. Others want to hear every member of the orchestra—they’ll take a cue from a clarinet, from an oboe, even. I am one of those. My writing desk is covered in open novels. I read lines to swim in a certain sensibility, to strike a particular note, to encourage rigour when I’m too sentimental, to bring verbal ease when I’m syntactically uptight. I think of reading like a balanced diet; if your sentences are baggy, too baroque, cut back on fatty Foster Wallace, say, and pick up Kafka, as roughage. If your aesthetic has become so refined it is stopping you from placing a single black mark on white paper, stop worrying so much about what Nabokov would say; pick up Dostoyevsky, patron saint of substance over style.

I think you follow your contemporaries from afar.  At least, I do.

She was at my university, we only overlapped a year. We never met, just crossed paths in passing. I was a science specialist with a theatre and writing interest; she was in the Arts.  She did edit the May Anthologies (as did Nick Laird), which I did a few years after along with a friend. (I also in a different year had a poem published in them, as did Laird)

I knew her work. I knew she was with Nick Laird who qualified into law and was a practising solicitor for several years while also a poet before moving into full time writing.

Working in the city and writing I could connect with.  

Her voice reminds me of my West London.  

While she is not my yellow brown banana colour, she’s not the causcasian pink white of the UK’s last 20 or 30 prime ministers and kings and queens

So she looks like me in that she bears no resemblence to our ruling elite - difference plus difference equals something similar?  But, she is who she is - the multi-cultural poster child thing plastered on to her, probably unfairly.

I mention Nick Laird, as I gather they were friends a long time before marrying, and friendship presumably came before love.  They also edit each other’s work.

Anoushka somewhat edits mine of late, and she does see an early draft before almost anyone else. I’d give it to someone like my playwright mentor friend, Jane Bodie, but am too embarrassed about the state of an early draft.  

“Do you want to make a fool of yourself in front of me, or in front of x amount of people?” (Smith/Laird)

I recall reading she was cautious about having children (who would bring children into this world…) and then learning she had a child (then another) about the same time as me.

Most is written about her novels. But, I love her essays. I trace Susan Sonntag, John Berger, David Foster Wallace all in her essay writing.

Her sentences are great in either form, but her angle of opinion always seems to provoke a thought in me from her non-fiction.  The conversations you can see of her on youtube are erudite and thoughtful. Maybe one day I’ll bump into her in NW6/10 or NYC.

Read more tips here - top writing style tips - some thoughts from Ursula K Le Guin - Philip Pullman.

Lastly, another in conversation with youtube of her chat at around 2013