I asked a programmer how best to explain a computer algorithm.
For my sake, I asked him to explain it in simple terms.
“It’s not really a code,” he said. “Everyone thinks it’s a computer code. But don’t think of it like that. It’s actually the rule the code has to follow.”
The “everyone” he was referring to were readers of a column I’d written. It was about a Facebook algorithm change that rattled many users. Facebook’s new algorithm was altering the way we experienced the platform, what we saw first on our timelines, what ads popped up and what news we read first.
Facebook users were mad, and most of them didn’t have the first clue about algorithms or how they worked. “What’s an algorithm anyway,” one reader questioned in the comment section of my column.
It was a good question, and I’ll humbly admit, I wasn’t fully qualified to answer it with any level of expertise.
Like my programmer-friend explained, telling us what an algorithm is (and isn’t) and what it does (and doesn’t do) would have been a good first step for Facebook. The problem was that Facebook thought they were giving us what we wanted. They just did a really poor job of explaining algorithms to us in ways we’d understand.
In a report published last week, Aaron Smith, associate director for research at Pew Research Center, said “Nearly all the content an individual user might see on social media is chosen by computer programs attempting to deliver content that they might find relevant or engaging.”
That’s the algorithm, and it’s often the part of our social media user experience we don’t know or understand.
Who you follow, what you like, when you’re on, where you are when you’re on and how you use it all lead to the answer of why Facebook does what it does.
It’s why you see who and what you see in your news feed.
According to Smith, all of these algorithm changes might actually mess with our emotions.
When asked about the emotions they experience from content they see, 88 percent said they felt amused. And maybe that helps balance how it makes us feel the other times we use it. For example, 72 percent said the content sometimes made them feel angry.
If this is how the algorithm works, and we know how the content makes us feel, then why do we complain but keep coming back to social media?
Because we enjoy the feeling of connection, like the 71 percent of users in this study who said they like to see content on social media that makes them feel connected to others.
So, at the end of the day, we might not know precisely how an algorithm works, but we sure as heck know how the results make us feel.
I’m a recovering sharent.
No. That’s not a typo.
You’ve never heard of a “sharent?” It’s a portmanteau of the words “share” and “parent,” and it refers to those of us who post and share way too many pictures and videos of our kids on social media.
It’s the #TMI (i.e., too much information) version of parenting.
Of course, the act of sharenting is not new. Most of our parents were sharenting offenders long before social media came along.
My parents kept boxes and albums full of photographs and old 8mm films in the hall closet. Over the years, if we wanted to sift through childhood pictures, it required digging through shoes and blankets and holiday decorations to find those memories.
If I brought a girlfriend home to meet the family, Mom would drag out those albums to relive the early years of my life, from blurry baby photos to awkward, acne-pocked, pre-teen pics.
It was embarrassing. It was meant to be. But, in a strange way, it was also her way of showing love and care.
There’s a good chance that no one outside our family and former girlfriends will ever see these pictures now (at least not while I’m alive). There’s also a good chance no one on social media will ever see these pictures unless one of my siblings decides to publically reminisce about our childhood (please, not while I’m alive).
Like my mom, who was really good at preserving those memories, this was our way of chronicling and preserving family history.
But this was also pre-social media.
Unlike our parents who shared these moments with “friends” and family in face-to-face settings, we take current-day sharenting to a whole new level on social media.
I suspect this happens for several reasons:
I learned to stop posting “in the moment.” I still capture these precious moments on my phone, but I take a beat and think about whether or not to share the content on social media.
Here’s why: aside from the privacy we give up, we don’t often consider the long-term consequences of sharenting on our children. We don’t even fully know the consequences. That scares me.
So, the next time you take amazing pictures of your kids doing something adorable, save them, print them, and put them in a box.
It’ll be nice to have a few memories to share when the boyfriends and girlfriends come to meet you.
Last week, the Department of Communication at YSU hosted the first of four “social media essentials” workshops for those interested in learning the basics of the big platforms.
This first session focused on Instagram, but most of what our 50 workshop attendees heard could easily be applied to any social media platform.
Workshop leaders included Jamie Jamison, an Instagram influencer and consultant, and Lori McGlone of McGlone Media LLC. Jamison and McGlone have directed some of the most iconic Mahoning Valley brands, including White House Fruit Farms and Handel’s Ice Cream.
Although it was clear people came to hear about Instagram, what they left with were tips on how to make meaningful, engaging and lasting connections with audiences.
“It’s important for people to understand how they can succeed on Instagram by being consistent, posting quality content and engaging with their followers with good communication,” Jamison said.
Some audience members wanted to know how to get followers. Jamison noted that when it comes to finding Instagram followers, quality is better than quantity.
“We want your brand to strive for good quality followers, who you interact with frequently, and who share your posts with their followers,” Jamison added. “That’s far more important than having a high quantity of followers with little engagement.”
Jamison also added that when posting good quality photos and videos, be sure to follow your brand’s social media mission statement.
“Instagram is about community and communication,” Jamison said. “Let your customers and fans and friends see your gallery of posts and engage you there.”
Whether your brand is a business or personal, Jamison and McGlone say that being consistent on Instagram is crucial, and while begin consistent sounds difficult, it’s really easy to do if you follow some basic tips.
McGlone noted that consistency with content is key to building any brand on Instagram, or any other social media platform, and it’s not important for you to be “everywhere.”
“It’s not necessary to put your business or brand on every social media outlet,” McGlone said. “Choosing one of three platforms, doing them really well, is more effective than being in every space.”
If you missed last week’s workshop and want to attend one or all of the next three dates, send an RSVP email to email@example.com and we’ll save you a seat. Each session is free, open to the public and begins at noon in the Kilcawley Student Center’s Ohio Room.
Upcoming events include:
March 5: Twitter. Kati Hartwig, coordinator of social media and digital marketing at YSU, is an expert on all-things Twitter.
March 26: Facebook Live. Dennis Schiraldi, founder of DOYO Live, has produced an endless stream of valuable FB Live videos on social media marketing.
April 30: Snapchat. Ryan McNicholas, assistant director of marketing for fitness and wellness in YSU’s campus recreation program, will teach branding basics using Snapchat
As our Uber driver turned toward the Las Vegas strip last year, we were greeted with a massive advertisement for a new eSports Arena.
If you’ve been to Vegas, you might be familiar with the Luxor Hotel and Casino. It’s in the shape of a giant pyramid. This particular eSports Arena ad covered an entire side of Luxor’s 30-story structure.
“Who knew gaming would be such big business in Vegas,” I joked.
No one laughed.
I suspect this is because it seems the entire world is in on the joke. Those who have invested money (in game development) and time (in playing) are laughing all the way to the bank.
I’m not much of a gamer. My last big win with a video game was with Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out for Nintendo 64.
But I do follow gamers on social media, for no other reason that my kids are interested in gaming, and I like to sound relevant when we talk about the newest, hottest games.
Game players and developers interact during online play, at tournaments and conventions, but it’s the chatting they do on social media that tells us so much more about the hottest games, who the best gamers are and where they’re located.
Rishi Chadha, Twitter’s head of gaming content partnerships, noted the widespread use of Twitter for all sorts of gaming conversations.
“Twitter is where game publishers, the gaming media, popular game streamers and entertainers, esports leagues, teams, players and commentators interact with their most engaged fans and with one another,” Chadha said.
Consider this: In 2018, there were 1 billion global tweets about gaming-related activities.
The regions that tweet most about gaming include (in order of most tweets) Japan, the U.S., the U.K., France and Korea.
“Fans of gaming around the globe came to Twitter throughout the year to discuss the most anticipated game titles, cheer on their favorite esports teams and to join a community of passionate, like-minded fanatics all year long,” Chadha added.
The most tweeted about games included Fate/Grand Order (@fgoproject), Fortnite (@FortniteGame), Monster Strike (@MStrikeOfficial), Splatoon (@SplatoonJP), and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (@PUBG).
Truth be told, I was only familiar with Fortnite and Splatoon, and when I mentioned the other names to my kids, they were more concerned about why their favorite titles such as Overwatch and Super Smash Bros. weren’t on the list.
“Fans also made sure to keep tabs on their favorite athletes on the platform,” Chadha noted.
The most tweeted about esports athletes included Seth Abner (@OpTi Scumper), F lix Lengyel (@xQc), and Juan DeBiedma (@LiquidHbox). No one comes close to Abner’s numbers on Twitter. He boasts an impressive 2.1 million followers. The next closest, Lengyel and DeBiedma, have about 200,000 followers each.
If you want up-to-date information on gaming, check out the tweets from @TwitterGaming for more creators and players conversations.
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.