I have a secret.
Facebook collects your data – valuable information about your interests and traits – and share it with advertisers.
No, that’s not really a secret.
Everyone knows that Facebook is collecting this data and how advertisers use this data to target you with ads, right?
According to a new study released by the Pew Research Center, the answers to that question is, unequivocally, “no.” In fact, it appears, most people don’t know.
If you find it hard to believe people are still alarmed to hear Facebook collects and shares our personal information, you’re not alone. What might not be so surprising, however, it that most people are unaware they’re being categorized.
Findings from a new Pew study show that most people don’t know how Facebook uses personal data to classify them based on interests, demographics, political leaning and so on.
They also found that most Facebook users don’t like being categorized.
If you’re a frequent Facebook user, you probably know what targeted ads look like.
While perusing my Facebook feed last week, I “liked” a page related to omelet recipes. Voila, I started seeing ads the next day for eggs, and for a local restaurant with an extensive omelet menu.
Here is (apparently) the real secret: you (not Facebook) control ad preferences.
Most Facebook users don’t know they have this control.
“Overall ... 74 percent of Facebook users say they did not know that this list of their traits and interests existed until they were directed to their page as part of this study,” said report authors Paul Hitlin and Lee Rainie.
“When directed to the ‘ad preferences’ page, the large majority of Facebook users [88 percent] found that the site had generated some material for them.
A majority of users [59 percent] say these categories reflect their real-life interests, while 27 percent say they are not very or not at all accurate.”
It’s easy to find and edit your “ad preferences” page.
When you see an ad, click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner of the post. You’ll see options for “Hide Ad,” “Report Ad,” “Save Link,” and “Why am I seeing this?”
If you “Hide Ad” or “Report Ad,” you’ll be asked why you are hiding it (e.g., irrelevant) or reporting it (e.g., offensive). If you “Save Link” you can revisit the information later.
When you click on “Why am I seeing this,” you’ll see the data that led this advertiser to you, and a link to “Manage your ad preferences.”
You can also find you ad preferences at www.facebook.com/ads/preferences.
Take some time to review your preferences. For a deeper dive, scroll to the bottom of the ad preferences page and click on “How Facebook ads work.”
To read the full Pew Research Center report, go to at www.pewinternet.org.
Branding anything on social media with humor “steaks” time, and it’s “rare” to find a brand that can “cook up” a “meaty” Twitter campaign with jokes and puns while appealing to a loyal customer base.
I’m not great with puns, but this is exactly what Steak-umm does every day on social media.
Ironically, it was a vegan who turned me on to @steak-umm tweets. He DMed, “You know, I don’t eat meat, but these Steak-umm tweets are ‘well done’.”
I was already a Steak-umm customer. Now I’m a loyal follower on Twitter.
Curious to learn more about the team behind the account, I reached out to Nathan Allebach, social media manager for Steak-umm, to ask a few questions about the Steak-umm team, viral tweets, and cool collaborations:
Q: What does the Steak-Umm social media team look like?
A: One person manages the day-to-day Twitter account as far as community management, content creation, ideation, but our whole creative team at Allebach Communications collaborates on campaign ideas, design, digital, and so on. Slinging steaks and taking names.
From there we work with the marketing department at Quaker Maid, which owns a few brands, including Steak-umm, Mama Lucia Meatballs, Philly Gourmet Burgers, and Heritage Premium Sliced Steaks, all of which we work on together.
Q: There have to be some Steak-umm tweets or campaigns that made you proud. Was there a point with the Steak-umm account when you thought, "wow, that got a lot more RTs and likes than I expected"?
A: The viral rant about young people on social media from September was the highlight of the year as far as messaging and general media attention (https://twitter.com/steak_umm/status/1045038141978169344). That was by far the biggest tweet(s) we had done and we weren't expecting it to resonate with so many people.
Everyone is always confused when a frozen meat company is insightful. So that’s always funny and surreal.
Q: Did you have any tweets or campaigns that kind of fell flat?
A: Well, if we send out 20 different tweets, some will perform a little better, some a little worse, with a couple being bad, then maybe one hitting the mark. There was this hilarious “Hey Arnold" meme we posted, but it flopped. Those just aren't quite in yet with the “fellow” kids.
Q: I envision your team sitting in a Twitter war room, designing a master strategy for funny, engaging tweets while you consume an endless buffet of Steak-Umm sandwiches. How far off am I?
A: Way off, but that sounds so much cooler than the reality, so lets just go with that.
You know how they say the best ideas come in the shower? That’s what it's like crafting tweets. If you try to sit in a room strategizing the best tweets, they often just become stale marketing efforts. Tweets are like a stream of consciousness, so in most cases we just jot ideas down throughout the day, and then refine them at later points.
Sometimes (ideas will) get bounced off a coworker or we’ll spend some time as a team talking through further implementation, but day-to-day it’s just living life and tweeting about frozen meat sheets as the thoughts pass through.
Q: I loved the whole Steak-Umm flavored Pop Tarts bit. What’s your dream cross-promotion that would rock the Steak-Umm Twitter account?
A: That's tough. There are so many. We’ve interacted with all our favorite brands, such as MoonPie, Pluckers, Flex Seal, and a bunch of others, even celebrities like William Shatner and Tommy Wiseau. So, at this point it would be fun to mix it up with more niche celebrities like Joe Rogan or Lana Del Rey, or with a superstar like Demi Lovato.
Just the absurdity of it would be hilarious.
Some brands try to go for “cool” collaborations either because of what they are or what they want to think they are, but most of our content falls into meme culture, so the more absurd the better.
Q: You're winning a lot of new followers on Twitter. What’s the Steak-Umm rule on engaging with customers on social media?
A: Treat people online like people IRL (in real life). Tweet what you would say in person. About 95-percent of the daily interactions we have are positive, so we try to engage with as many people as we can. Some are just one-off, trivial comments, while others are more in depth and interesting.
With jerks, we’ll offer up some sass at times, but we try to keep it light (e.g., Steak-umm bless). With trolls, we play along until it goes too far, then we just disengage.
There isn’t a cemented set of rules for proper Internet etiquette, so most of it is discretionary and common sense as we’ve come to understand it over time. People aren’t robots, so it’s good to let the range of human emotions flow sometimes, as long as it’s tethered to the brand.
Q: Anything else you'd like to add?
-Steak-umm is a family owned company
-Demi Lovato if you're out there please @ us
-VerifySteakumm on Instagram
-be wary of charlatans online
-Steak-umm bless us, everyone
Author Erma Bombeck said, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.”
Looking back on that quote, I suspect Bombeck would have greatly enjoyed social media. She may have laughed at the many people who wittily walk up to that thin line and the few brave souls who attempt to cross it.
It’s hard to see that thin line. That’s why we call it “thin.”
Sometimes you have to be on the other side to realize you’ve crossed the line. By then it’s too late. You’re either reaping the admiration of fellow wannabe comedians who dared not cross the line or your digging out of the deepest of public social media shaming holes.
I have those moments when, reflecting on some current event, I think, “Wow, this tweet would be a very funny reaction to...” fill-in-the-blank
It happened again last week. While watching a TV documentary on a disgraced music star, I thought, “Time to chime in with my funny hot take on this idiot.
Thankfully, my frustratingly brilliant wife was sitting next to me and said, “Don’t tweet that. It’s gonna get you in trouble."
To be clear, when I say she’s “frustratingly” brilliant, it’s more of a frustration for me than it is for her. Yes, she has to carry the burden of being so smart, but I have to bear the constant reminder that she’s smarter than me.
The burden is worth it in times like these, when I’ve walked up to the line, teetering on the edge. She knows when to pull me back and when to push me over.
Again, it’s hard to see that line. You need someone with better vision to see it for you. You need someone to be your filter.
You need someone who cares about your well-being, someone who appreciates your humorous side, but who will stop you from throwing a potentially upsetting, albeit funny, one-liner into the volatile world of social media megalomania.
You need someone you trust. When I’m preparing a speech, and I want to work in humor, I’ll test out the joke on my wife before anyone else. She can gauge humor, and is unafraid to tell me when I’m not funny.
No offense to my Mom, but she thinks everything I say is clever. If she were the one watching out for me, I’d be in an Instagram dungeon. Sorry, Mom.
These thin lines are different for everyone, so the next time you tiptoe up to Bombeck’s thin line, be sure someone has your back.
You don’t have to give up being funny. Plus, having a good friend or partner laugh at your humor in real life is both fleeting and satisfying.
After all, the sound of my wife’s laughter is much more rewarding than a million little red hearts.
“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.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.