“You were wrong about net neutrality,” a friend texted me last week.
The text included a link to the latest U.S. broadband report from Ookla, a company that provides free internet speed tests.
According to the report, there was a nearly 36-percent increase in download speeds (i.e., downloading pictures, movies, music to your devices) in 2018 and a 22-percent increase in upload speeds.
This was his definitive proof that my pleas for net neutrality were unnecessary.
You see, about 18 months ago, I wrote a column encouraging readers to participate in Net Neutrality Day and why we should fight to keep the internet (mostly) open, (mostly) free and (mostly) devoid of government regulation.
The laws governing net neutrality, before they were repealed by the Federal Communications Commission and put into effect in June 2018, were meant to safeguard benefits for all users, regardless of income and education, and for all businesses, regardless of size and scope.
In essence, net neutrality offered all users and businesses a level playing field. Repealing it, most neutrality supporters believe, stifles creativity and progress, creates higher costs for consumers and slows access for those who can’t afford to pay for faster download speeds.
Was I wrong about net neutrality?
I’m usually the first to admit when I’m wrong, but there was something missing from my friend’s text. Using this one report to support the outcome of the repeal tells only a fraction of the story.
There’s no denying that broadband speeds are on the rise. You can read the report at speedtest.net. While you’re there, use their “free” app to test your speed.
When testing your speed, remember that Ookla is collecting information. You’re actually paying for that “free” test with data collected from your visit.
Last year, their app was used to perform more than 115 million “consumer-initiated” tests. Millions of tests create a ton of data, and that’s exactly how Ookla was able to determine the rise in U.S. broadband speeds.
But it doesn’t paint the whole picture, and it certainly doesn’t calm our concerns over the repeal.
It’s only been six months since the neutrality rules were scrapped, but some are concerned that we soon could see broadband companies bundling services, much like satellite and cable companies bundle TV channels.
Want access to ESPN and other sports websites? Pay for a premium sports package and get the access you want.
“Call this the calm before the storm,” I texted back to my friend. “Speeds may be up, but someone’s gotta pay for it.”
“Check your internet bill next December,” I added with a winky-faced emoji.
The jury is still out on the impact the repeal will have on you and me.
One thing’s for sure: we’ll need more than a cursory report on internet speeds before we see the full impact of the repeal.
You know it’s been a bad year when social media are pining for a simpler time, when MySpace was king, and when Facebook was nothing more than pet project by a baby-faced Harvard frosh.
Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic. Still there’s no denying that if Mark Zuckerberg had an escape button to reboot Facebook, he would’ve pressed it a long time ago.
This is because Facebook is in an endless cycle of scandals. Intentional or not, they’ve done bad things with our personal information. We know it, and they know we know it.
Which is why their cheery “Facebook’s Year In Review” charade published earlier this month hit only on the positive notes from 2018 and avoided any talk of scandal.
In light of this, here’s my abridged “Worst of Facebook” for 2018:
- Cambridge Analytica. We can sum up Zuckerberg’s Congressional testimony on their first of several data sharing and privacy goofs in two words: “my bad.” Actually, Zuckerberg probably would have said “our bad” because he doesn’t really take full blame for Cambridge Analytica gaining access to the data of more than 87 million accounts. Instead, he looked like a deer in the headlights during testimony, unsure of his next move, and oblivious to the 18-wheeler that Congress was careening toward Facebook’s front door.
- Myanmar Genocide. While you’re probably familiar with how Facebook was used to spread misinformation and hate in U.S. elections, you may be less familiar with how it was used to promote ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. According to United Nations investigators, Facebook virtually ignored the use of its platform by ultra-nationalist Buddhists for several years to spread violent propaganda against Rohinga Muslims. Allegedly this led to the execution of thousands of Muslims, and the exile of hundreds-of-thousands more.
In response to what were arguably two of the largest scandals in 2018, Facebook promised greater oversight and more transparency.
There were several other Facebook scandals, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Facebook wants us to know that despite their problems, we still turn to them to celebrate big events (e.g., World Cup, Royal Wedding). We still use Facebook to raise awareness for social issues, and to support causes important to us.
While we reflect on what a spectacularly awful year it was for Facebook, it’s important to remember why their tribulations will benefit us all in 2019, including other social media platforms.
Twitter, Snapchat and other social media are sitting back and taking notes on Facebook’s public flogging so as not to repeat the mistakes of one of their chief rivals.
So, as we close out 2018, it’s time to stop and raise a glass to Facebook’s valiant (albeit recent) attempts to set higher standards for their platform, high standards for other platforms to follow, and data privacy and security lapses to avoid in 2019 and beyond.
I have a group of friends who meet every Tuesday night. We huddle around our TVs and watch our favorite show, “The Curse of Oak Island,” on The History Channel.
It’s hard to give an accurate count on how many friends are in our group. Most of us have never actually met face-to-face. Yet, we chat and joke like lifelong friends, like buddies who meet up to unwind after a long day.
Our group assembles on Twitter using the hashtag #OakIslandCursers as our rallying cry.
Twitter is our meeting place for sharing this common interest, for sharing a passion for history and the hunt for buried treasure.
In truth, we’re not all that different from other groups who use Twitter to celebrate their love for favorite TV shows.
By comparison, the Oak Island Cursers aren’t even a big group. While there may be other shows with bigger followings using unique hashtags such as #GameOfThrones or #Greys- Anatomy, the passion for Oak Island is just as strong, even if our tweets aren’t trending across the nation.
Chris Freeman of Brunswick, Ohio, is a fellow Curser who shares that Oak Island passion.
“I’m a big history fan, but not a big reality-show guy,” Freeman said. “A friend of mine watched the first episodes and encouraged me to check it out. The combination of history and treasure hunt really attracted me.”
For many Cursers, it’s the Twitter group that keeps them coming back.
“There’s a healthy amount of skepticism anyone has when you’re parsing theories of the Templars and the Holy Grail and Shakespeare letters,” Freeman added. “The way I was able to find a group who wanted them to find something, but also could point out the ridiculousness of the show at times, was the perfect match.”
For other Cursers, following Oak Island on Twitter is more about trying to piece together important historical timelines, like putting together a giant puzzle one tweet at a time.
“Twitter makes it fun to watch because I find others who, like me, have different theories about what and who were on Oak Island,” said Christie Brooks of Tyler, Texas. “I’ve read several books on the Templar Knights, and I’m a little obsessed with them.”
Cursers are keen to share theories about what happened over the centuries on Oak Island and about what treasurer hunters will ultimately unearth. Theories range from the Ark of the Covenant to the Holy Grail to Templar gold.
“Even if they never find a lump of treasure, it’s still intriguing to wonder how human bones from European and Middle Eastern origins were found around the island, buried so far beneath the ground,” Brooks added.
Whatever they find next, you can bet the Cursers will be there to tweet about it, offering endless theories, and connecting with like-minded friends to explore the mysteries of Oak Island.
Citing problems with another security bug, Google announced last week they’ve moved up the shutdown date for its ailing social media platform, Google+, from August 2019 to April 2019.
“We want to give users ample opportunity to transition off of consumer Google+,” said David Thacker Google’s VP for Product Management and G Suite.
“Over the coming months, we will continue to provide users with additional information, including ways they can safely and securely download and migrate their data.”
The fact is, only a handful of users remain on Google+, still creating “circles” of friends and connections. Pulling the plug a few months early won’t cause much user angst. Although we learned a lot from Google’s failed experiment, the Google+ death knell probably won’t make big headlines.
So, in anticipation of the end for a service with so much unfulfilled potential, I’ve penned an early eulogy for the soon-to-be defunct platform:
It seems like only a few short years ago when we were introduced to Google+.
Or is it Google Plus? I could never tell for sure how Google preferred its name to be written in stories like these. Honestly, I’m sure that “+” sign was an unfortunate design choice for Google, and always a little tricky when trying to brand the platform.
Now, I guess, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
It’s hard to write this and not get a little emotional. After all, Google+ was the little social media engine that almost could, always fighting an uphill climb against the social neighborhood rock stars (I’m looking at you, Facebook).
Even today, we see the legacy of Google’s platform on lists of social sharing buttons at the top of news articles and blog posts.
For example, if you’re reading this online on the desktop version at Vindy.com, look at the top of the page. Next to the Facebook “Share” and Twitter “Tweet” buttons, you might see the ghost of Google+ haunting us in the form of a social share icon.
We just didn’t appreciate Google+ when it was here, not as much as we appreciated other social media. In fact, Google told us that Google+ had such low usage and minimal engagement that in its last days, most of us were spending less than five seconds on the platform.
I’ll always remember that silly controversy over its “+1” buttons that appear at the top of some Google search results. The thought was that if you built a website using the “+1” button, you’d improve your Google rankings.
That didn’t really happen.
Instead, the “+1” option allowed us to discover new content, and help Google index that content for better search results. Some developers suggest that adding the “+1” button increased the time we spend on their sites.
So, while most of us won’t miss the friends and circles, there are some features that will live on as a legacy of the Google+ platform.
Our two oldest daughters are best friends.
The eldest, a teenager, sees herself as a sort of guide for her little sister, a pre-teen.
They both share the same interests, art and anime. They share secrets. They stay up long hours chatting away about nonsensical things.
My kids also bond over social media, specifically Instagram, the elder sister teaching her young apprentice the tips and tricks for curating and sharing the best content.
They post silly pictures, favorite art and anime clips, and they use the platform as a way to celebrate their sisterhood.
I follow them on Instagram. I’m a snoop, an over-protective father, and I need to be sure no one is posting inappropriate content.
I’m also genuinely interested in seeing how they and their friends are using social media to cultivate relationships. I learn so much about how to use social media simply through observation.
Turns out they’re much better at this whole social media thing than most of us.
They know the importance of being lighthearted, and how to not take themselves (or life) too seriously.
Our teens and pre-teens see the benefits of using social media and how those benefits far outweigh the costs.
A Pew Research Center study released recently suggests that many teens know the costs of using social media, and they understand the challenges of growing up with technology.
They also realize the benefits to using technology, such as staying better connected to friends and learning about the world.
According to the study, teens say they sometimes feel “overwhelmed by the drama on social media and pressure to construct only positive images of themselves, they simultaneously credit these online platforms with several positive outcomes – including strengthening friendships.”
Teens also like seeing different ideas, values and opinions, and helping fellow teens with important causes.
Of the 13- to 17-year-olds surveyed, 81-percent said social media made them feel “more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives,” and 68-percent said social media made them feel as if they had people who would “support them through tough times.”
Many teens had positive rather than negative emotions about their social media use. For example, 71-percent said they felt included (as opposed to excluded) and 69-percent felt confident (as opposed to insecure).
Some also recognized the negative aspects, such as the 45 percent who felt a little overwhelmed by the drama on social media, and 37 percent who felt pressure to only post content that would generate a lot of comments and likes.
Like my daughters who see the value in using social media to learn about the world and connect with friends, it’s clear that other teens see those same benefits. And when we see those benefits through the eyes of our children, it allows us to reassess the value we see in our own uses of social media.
Narcissus is one of my favorite characters from Greek mythology.
If you’re not familiar with his story, it’s a simple yet powerful and cautionary tale.
As Narcissus walked by a lake, he stopped for a drink. When he leaned down, he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the youth and beauty staring back at him.
Narcissus became transfixed by his reflection, how young and handsome he looked.
He died on the bank of the lake from sorrow because he could not reclaim the beauty of his youth, and he could not look away.
Narcissus would have loved social media and the ability to see his image reflected back at him on platforms such as Instagram, in pictures and posts, all searchable with hashtags and keywords.
Narcissus would have died in front of his computer screen with a mouse in one hand and his smartphone in the other.
Beyond the myth, we have Narcissus to thank for the oft-used term that describes our obsession with seeing ourselves on social media: narcissism.
Today’s Narcissus is not myth. He and she are alive and well, and now we have data to prove it.
In the December issue of Computers In Human Behavior, researchers Antonia Erz, Ben Marder and Elena Osadchaya of the Copenhagen Business School identified what drives social media influencers and followers to use hashtags and other “look at me” strategies for self-promotion.
When looking at Instagram, Erz’s team found telltale signs of narcissism.
“Influencers... are heavy hashtag-users,” Erz’s team noted. These influencers also had a high followers-to-followings ratio, which means they had a high number of followers, but they didn’t really follow many others in return.
They also found that influencers were driven by motives of self-presentation through hashtags and “look at me” status-seeking on the image-sharing platform.
Influencers in this study had high scores for narcissism, extraversion and self-monitoring traits. In other words, influencers spent more time looking at themselves on social media, with deep concern over how they were seen by others, rather than making stronger connections to their followers.
Erz’s team found that, in recent years, some social media platforms have “experienced a growing number of influencers and microcelebrities, who use social media to connect, not for the sake of community but for the sake of broadcasting themselves.”
And apparently influencers love hashtags.
“We show that users who chose Instagram to seek status, were largely driven by self-presentation motives, which in turn increased the propensity to add hashtags and use many hashtags in a post,” Erz’s team added.
If we’re caught up in the endless cycle of searching for likes and shares for the content and witty hashtags we post, it’s time to look away from our social media reflections.
After all, legend has it that Narcissus is still admiring himself in the afterlife, searching the waters of the River Styx for his reflection.
It’s no secret that Facebook has been in image repair mode for the better part of two years.
Although they won’t come right out and say it, Facebook puts part of the blame on us and some of the content we post and share.
In an effort to clean up their act (and ours, apparently), Facebook has spent considerable time and money deleting user posts that violate “community standards.”
To do this, they’ve hired an army of reviewers to eliminate bad content. They’re also constantly tweaking algorithms to identify potential violations.
What Facebook’s army specifically hopes to curtail are posts that include adult nudity and sexual activity, fake accounts, hate speech, spam, terrorist propaganda, and violence and graphic content.
“Over the last two years, we’ve invested heavily in technology and people to more effectively remove bad content from our services,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management.
Facebook published the first report of these policing efforts in May.
That report was meant to show us the types of content that were detected and removed so that we could see just how well Facebook was enforcing its standards.
The report also revealed how much work is left to do.
“People will only be comfortable sharing on Facebook if they feel safe,” Rosen said.
A second report posted last week detailed improvement over the past six months. The update included new categories on the number of posts removed related to bullying and harassment, and sexual exploitation of children.
“We are getting better at proactively identifying violating content before anyone reports it, specifically for hate speech and violence and graphic content. But there are still areas where we have more work to do,” Rosen added.
Two content categories Facebook highlighted in its most recent report focused on successes in deleting posts with hate speech and graphic content.
The amount of hate speech Facebook deleted from the platform more than doubled from its first report, from 24 percent to 52 percent. Detection of posts with violence and graphic content also improved from 72 percent to 97 percent.
The biggest win, according to Facebook, is that most of these posts are being removed before anyone sees them.
“The majority of posts that we take down for hate speech are posts that we’ve found before anyone reported them to us,” Rosen said.
To get a sense of the volume of content, consider this: during a three-month period, Facebook took action on 15.4 million pieces of violent and graphic content. This means there may have been millions of other pieces of content that Facebook didn’t take action on, but still reviewed.
The report also noted the types of actions Facebook took on content violations.
“This included removing content, putting a warning screen over it, disabling the offending account or escalating content to law enforcement,” Rosen said.
You can read the report by searching “Community Standards Enforcement” at newsroom.fb.com.
The paradox of my life as a social media researcher and columnist is that using Facebook, Twitter and other platforms makes it harder for me to write.
How can this be so? After all, “to write about social media with credibility, I must immerse myself in it,” or so I used to think.
Every Monday night I start to get the twitch of horror and anticipation that precedes my weekly musings and, instead of opening a new document and recording my thoughts, I do what many other writers do: I check my social media feeds.
I look to see who’s out and about. I scan events happening around me. I read news and reactions to the big stories of the day.
According to Statista, the daily average time a person spent on social media in 2017 was 135 minutes. If that’s so, I use at least 134 of these minutes screwing around while my deadline for this column approaches.
The only comfort I have is in the knowledge that I’m not alone. A quick web search of “writers,” “social media,” and “distractions” results in thousands of columns by fellow writers facing the same dilemma.
So, in an attempt to focus less on deadlines and more on my readers, I’ve started using strategies advocated by these fellow writers.
First, as with everything, there’s an app that does most of the hard work – at least when I’m on my laptop.
Freedom is software that comes in the form of a download for your Mac or Windows-enabled device. It’s also available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
According to Freedom’s description, “every time you check email, a social feed or respond to a notification, your mind requires 23 minutes of re-focus time to get back on task.”
Freedom helps control those distractions by blocking sites I tell it to, for time periods I specify. Even if I try to visit Twitter after blocking access, that little reminder that I’ve blocked it is often all I need to refocus on an important task.
Second, I bought a brand new legal pad and sharpened a box of No. 2 pencils.
According to productivity experts, writing longhand has several benefits beyond getting me away from my laptop and smartphone.
Writing longhand stimulates parts of the brain similar to those activated by meditation. Another benefit is that I write much slower than I type. This slower pace is linked to better thinking and more creativity.
In the end, few people would suggest we give up social media altogether.
But the next time you need to pull away from social media to complete a task – whether it’s a column, a term paper, or the next best-selling novel – remember that a little help and self-discipline go a long way to beating deadlines.
Editor’s note: Adam submitted this 12 hours before his scheduled deadline.
This past Monday, I counted the email in my in-box from the weekend. There were 138 received between late Friday night (when I stopped reading) and early Monday morning. This doesn’t count junk and spam.
Ok. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot.
On a typical weekday, I receive 100-plus emails, and on busy days, it’s double that. I’ve spoken with friends and colleagues who receive far more on busy days.
Imagine being an editor for a newspaper, receiving an endless stream of email announcements about community events, concerts and lectures, and bake sales.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, we spend about 28 percent of our workday reading and replying to email. Of course, that percentage varies greatly depending on your industry and job.
And then there are those of us who manage multiple email accounts. Last count puts the email addresses I maintain at 12.
Beyond my personal Gmail account, I also manage a work address and several organization email accounts. Some get more attention than others, and some get ignored for days at a time. There isn’t enough time to read it all.
Like many of my friends who manage multiple accounts, I’m accessing different email management platforms throughout the day – Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Outlook – and on multiple devices (laptops, desktops, smartphones).
Don’t get me started on messaging apps (i.e., Facebook Messenger) and texting. That’s a column topic for another day.
Anyone who receives this volume of email will tell you that it feels incredibly overwhelming.
“Sorry I didn’t see your email. It’s a losing battle,” a colleague lamented this week when I asked if he had time to read my email. “Sifting through it all to find what’s important? What’s urgent? I’m drowning in email.”
I told him that scanning has become a go-to strategy for “reading” it all. Most of us are very good at scanning our in-boxes, looking for keywords or phrases, familiar email addresses and names that we deem important enough to open.
According to digital marketing expert Lon Safko, the average person spends 2.5 seconds scanning an email. For some, it takes a split-second to determine the worth of an email based on sender and subject line.
Our email scanning skills have to be precise, but they also have to be adaptable. We have to know when to choose other communication channels.
Marketing consultant and creative strategist Annabel Acton notes that we have options for staying ahead of it. Her suggestions for cutting through the clutter include:
Blocking out time each day just for reading email, but avoid the urge to read email at other times.
Only reading and react to an email once; don’t save it for later.
Knowing when email isn’t always the best response option; try calling or sending a video message.
The digital divide is preventing nearly one-in-five teens from completing their homework, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the digital divide refers to gap between those with and without access to computers and internet access.
“Roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17 and whose annual income falls below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6 percent of such households earning $75,000 or more a year,” said Pew researchers Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin.
Wait. I thought all teens had access to smartphones. We’ll get back to that in a second.
The digital divide has resulted into what’s now referred to as the “homework gap.” This gap was a serious problem for teens in some urban and rural districts in the early years of the internet, when high-speed access and technology hadn’t quite reached low-income homes.
Indeed, the gap can be an academic obstacle for teens without access to the fast, reliable technology at home. Students without access to computers can’t to do simple searches, have a harder time finding help with math problems, and have difficulties staying up-to-date with current research and definitions.
“Black teens, as well as those from lower-income households, are especially likely to face these school-related challenges as a result,” Anderson and Perrin said.
It’s surprising that there’s still a digital divide thanks to the abundant and near-constant access teens have to smartphones.
Consider this: A previous Pew study, also co-authored by Anderson, noted that 95 percent of teens have (or have access to) a smartphone.
While some teens report having trouble completing homework due to limited broadband and internet access, most of them are also carry around what amounts to a super computer in their hands. It’s not unreasonable then to assume that these same devices would be available to students in their homes.
Smartphones are mostly outlawed in schools, and for good reason. They’re a distraction. But so is worrying about having the right tools for completing assignments.
Perceptions of what smartphones can do for students at home and school must be changed, but for this we need teachers to step in.
Teachers who want to bridge the divide should encourage students to bring their phones to school, to use in class, and to complete homework.
Let’s start letting them use their devices to solve problems, not just to take and share selfies.
Learning how to download and use homework help apps, and strategies for doing mobile research, are essential next steps to closing the gap.
After all, learning how to solve homework problems on their smartphones now will set them up for solving real problems later in life.
To read the full report, go to pewresearch.org and search “digital divide.”
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.