We’ve used this column once a week for the last five years to look at how technology can enhance and, at times, hinder our relationships. We’ve explored the role of social media in our lives.
Five years seems like a small, inconsequential amount of time for anything. It’s a blip on the radar of The Vindicator’s impressive 150-year run. It’s a fraction of the history enjoyed by the first American television programs that aired over 90 years ago.
At my age, five years goes by in the blink of an eye.
But five years is big in terms of the scope of the current slate of social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are teenagers today. Instagram is a 9-year-old. Snapchat is an infant.
We’ve been at this for half-a-decade, and in that time, we’ve covered a lot of ground, trying to stay ahead of this fast-paced, ever-changing world of social media.
Along the way, we looked at tips and tricks for getting the most out of our favorite platforms. We took deeper dives into protecting our privacy and security. We studied the landscape to look for promising new social media to make us feel better connected.
After five years, are we better or worse at this?
Probably both. We’re better because, as research suggests, we feel more connected to our world, our friends and family, and our communities. People often cite social media as the reason why they feel more connected.
We might also be a bit worse because, over the last few years, we’ve come to grips with real privacy and security concerns that have simmered under the surface of social media since the start. How Facebook and others (and us) have handled these issues is as telling as our continued use of their services.
In other words, we still have work do. Of course, we can’t control the actions of social media companies, but we can control our own.
In one of my first columns, I offered some basic tips for adjusting our behaviors, for using social media in ways that were meant to encourage online prosocial behaviors:
The term “catfishing” has slithered its way into our everyday lexicon.
For those unfamiliar with the term, it simply refers to the act (or is it an art?) of luring some unsuspecting person into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.
If you’ve ever caught a real catfish, it sounds like a similar scenario.
I love to fish, but I’m not a fan of catfish. Catfish are known for hitting your line and taking the bait, then nothing. They sit at the bottom of the lake, in the mud, with bait and hook. Then, as you slowly reel it in, the catfish suddenly acts like a huge shark, twisting and turning, flipping and flopping.
You think you’ve got a prize-winning catch on the line, only to realize it’s just a slimy catfish.
Catfishing usually happens on social media, and Facebook seems to be the platform of choice for these bad actors.
“I think she’s catfishing me,” someone will post on social media. Or “I think you’re being catfished,” a friend will say to someone when it seems like the fish (person) on the other end of the line seems too good to be true.
But the days of the catfish are numbered. Facebook and other social media platforms have developed technology to identify and eliminate some of the tricks catfish and other scammers use to trick gullible relationship-seekers.
They’re also using this tech to stop others from causing harm online. More on that in a second.
Facebook announced last week that they rely on a combination of technology, and people to make their platforms safe for users. And they’re making this technology and the algorithms they use available in an open source environment for other platforms and engineers to crack down on those who do harm.
“We are open-sourcing two technologies that detect identical and nearly identical photos and videos — sharing some of the tech we use to fight abuse on our platform with others who are working to keep the internet safe,” said Antigone Davis, Facebook’s Global Head of Safety, and Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Integrity.
They’re focused on solutions for stopping more than just the catfish. This technology can help to identify other harmful content, such as child exploitation, terrorist propaganda, and graphic violence. The hope is that this new technology can will help Facebook and others find content duplicates (e.g., duplicate photos like we see in catfishing incidents) and prevent them from being shared.
“These algorithms will be open-sourced on GitHub so our industry partners, smaller developers and non-profits can use them to more easily identify abusive content and share hashes — or digital fingerprints — of different types of harmful content,” Davis and Rosen added.
Catfish will undoubtedly continue to lurk among social media feeds. It’s comforting to know Facebook and others are adding another another layer of defense to stop the fish before someone mistakenly reels in another.
Two aliens have invaded my home. Don’t be fooled by their appearance. One looks like a 14-year-old girl, the other like a 12-year-old girl.
They’re good aliens, not at all like the kinds we see on TV. They’re polite. Sometimes they do funny things or make interesting noises. Most days they clean up after themselves.
My wife and I try to communicate with our new alien friends. But as those (i.e., parents) who have attempted interplanetary species-to-species communication will tell you, it’d be easier to find water on Mars than to have meaningful conversations with this type of alien.
We have a lot of difficulty finding a common language through shared experiences. We’re separated by more than three decades of life.
Oh, and they’re from another planet.
It’s not all bad. We occasionally find topics to discuss that don’t border on the mundane.
One common language we share is music. Over the last few months, the aliens have been home a lot (i.e., summer break), so we’ve turned to music to help bridge the conversation divide.
If I hear them listening to a song we listened to in the 80s and 90s, I perk up. “Oh, that was my favorite song in (random year),” I say. Even if it wasn’t really my favorite song, it gives us a jumping off point for connection.
We talk about the songs, the bands and what mom and dad must have been like in those days.
Earlier this summer, the 14-year-old alien jumped in the car as I was turning down the volume. The Dead Milkmen’s Punk Rock Girl was playing. She said, “No. Turn it up.”
I smiled, sang the lyrics out loud (and off-key). She laughed at me, asked me to replay it, and sang along. We talked about the lyrics and relationships.
About an hour later, I went to Spotify and created a “Songs You MUST Hear” playlist. Of course, I add the Dead Milkmen’s ode, but I also filled it with many songs from different genres and decades, some hits and some a little more obscure.
We share a Spotify account. It’s mostly “alien” playlists, all loaded with nonsensical music created by other silly aliens.
We hear them listening to songs my wife and I recognize. A fellow alien will take a song from our youth and create a parody about Minecraft or Fortnite. The parodies aren’t very good, but we hum along because we know the tunes.
Yesterday it was a-ha’s Take On Me. Last week it was something by Queen. It doesn’t really matter what song it is so long as it opens the door to making a deeper connection with our little aliens.
I know it won’t always be this way. The aliens will learn our ways. They’ll learn our language. For now, it’s nice to know we have music and a Spotify playlist to make a connection.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor of communication studies 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 about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers on social media and society.