Sitting at a stoplight near my home, I was alarmed by a driver in the car in front of me who didn’t move when the light turned green. His head was down. From the back, he appeared to be slumped over the wheel.
My immediate reaction was to put my vehicle in park to see if he was OK. I was about to exit my car when his head popped up. He looked up at the light, then in his rear-view mirror, then sped away.
The whole event took 30 seconds, but I quickly realized he was fine. He was probably so engrossed with some text or social media that he didn’t notice the light change.
I have a few pet peeves when it comes to mobile phone use. I teach, so you might be surprised to know that using phones in my classroom doesn’t always annoy me.
But if someone is checking social media in the car in front of me when the light is green, I lose it. Maybe not “road rage” lose it, but I do let out an audible “Come on, man!” (I know this because my 2-year-old and 5-year old repeat it from the back seat).
The fact is we’re still trying to figure out when and where these devices could and should fit into our daily routines. We’re establishing new norms all the time.
A recent study by the Pew Research Center examined Americans’ perceptions of mobile phone use. About 25 percent of the respondents thought it was OK to use mobile devices while walking down the street, using public transport or waiting in line.
View the full report at http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/26/americans-views-on-mobile-etiquette/
But pull out that phone in a social setting, and be prepared for glares of disgust. About 95 percent of the respondents said it was not OK to use a mobile device during a meeting, at the movies or worship service.
Here’s the crazy part: 89 percent of those same respondents say they used their phone during a recent social gathering.
It’s not all bad. Some people reported using their phones to support the social gathering. For example, 45 percent used their phone to post a picture of the gathering. 38 percent used their phone to get information they thought would be interesting to the group.
My wife and I have a loosely followed rule about using mobile devices when we’re on a date. One of us can have a phone, with the ringtone up, in case the babysitter calls. Other than that, no mobile devices allowed.
We once spent most of a lunch date fixated on our phones, not talking but scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. It was supposed to be our time to reconnect. Instead, we were distracted by the momentary joy of discovering random news.
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes we forget and pull out a phone to show each other something funny on Facebook. At least we’re trying.
The next time you’re sitting at a stoplight, or you’re on a date, think about the people around you. Take time to concentrate on the people around you.
That important text and social media post will still be there when you’re on your own.
While law enforcement captured pictures of license plates of purported speeders on I-680, it was another picture that accelerated the Youngstown speed-trap story on social media.
The picture was of an officer holding what appears to be a radar gun on a stoop of the Market Street Bridge, leaning against the fence barricade, overlooking the I-680 southbound drivers.
An editorial about the speed trap was written by Vindicator editor Todd Franko and published on page A2 last Sunday.
The story generated a modest level of activity on social media: a few shares, likes and retweets.
It wasn’t until Franko received the image of the officer on the Market Street Bridge from a Twitter source, and subsequently posted the image to Facebook with a link to the editorial, that the story generated social media buzz.
As of Thursday morning, that post on the paper’s Facebook page generated more than 160 likes and more than 290 comments. It’s interesting to note that the number of comments exceeded the number of likes. Apparently people didn’t like the story as much as they wanted to comment on it.
Those aren’t even the most noteworthy numbers.
The Vindicator’s Facebook story was shared 1,857 times as of Thursday morning. This means that enough people found value in the story to not only comment on it, or like it, but to take the next step toward the social media Holy Grail: validation through sharing.
. Sharing on Facebook is the equivalent of a top-notch endorsement. If I share something on Facebook, and to a lesser extent, retweet something on Twitter, it carries more weight than if I simply like a post.
Social media shares drove people to the Vindy.com website. Per a Google Analytics report, the editorial received more than 27,000 unique page views and represented more than 14 percent of all the activity on Vindy.com. The next closest was a story that generated just over 3,000 unique hits and 1 percent of all Vindy.com visitor activity.
But the activity on Vindy.com didn’t accelerate until the picture was added to the post.
Several memes with the picture emerged on Facebook in the days after the post.
Memes are ideas that flow from person to person throughout a society. On social media, memes are best known as those witty text-on-picture combinations that make us laugh (e.g., do a search of “grumpy cat memes”).
Of course, some memes make us think. Good memes tend to follow in the tradition of the editorial cartoon (Don’t worry, cartoonists; no one can replace you).
Like most editorial cartoons, some memes are political satire steeped in opinion.
One meme of the I-680 speed trap included the image with text that read “Who cares about the heroin epidemic, I’m too busy making speed traps profitable for the city of Youngstown.”
Another meme read “Because ... there’s nothing else going on in Youngstown that requires police attention.”
There’s little doubt that the picture drove the speed-trap story. It’s a good reminder that while a picture might be worth a thousand words, a good picture might be worth a thousand shares on Facebook.
When I heard about the shooting of a live news crew last week, I was, like most people, sickened. Then I heard that there was a video file circulating on social media.
I watched it. I wish I hadn’t. It was sickening. It was kind of irresponsible for me to even look.
I thought about writing this column about the “social media murder” last week, but I didn’t want to bring attention to the acts as it was clear the murderer wanted our attention.
I’ve never believed it was my place to judge the way people behave on social media, and I don’t plan to start now. It would, however, be irresponsible in my role as a social media scholar to sit back and not address some of the questions about the way we engage one another.
Traditional mass-media distribution chains are mostly one way. The media act as gatekeepers, deciding what to print, post, air or stream.
Kurt Lewin, a German social psychologist, pioneered the study of gatekeeping. It’s a pretty simple concept that centers on looking at the way individuals and media decide what information they should share with others.
Gatekeepers are those who make the decisions and, because of this, they have influence. The process is supposed to filter information so that the unwanted, unnecessary and/or harmful messages are removed.
In a newsroom, like the one here at The Vindicator, there are editors who serve this role. They base decisions on codes of ethics and policies, and because the whole point is to share the message, they’re easily held accountable for poor gatekeeping decisions.
Of course, journalists are gatekeepers, too.
In social media, we all have the ability to produce content and, because of this, the responsibility to act as gatekeepers. The items we like, tweet, pin and share are not merely a reflection of our tastes and identities, they’re messages for our audience (yes, even a good Grumpy Cat meme).
The line is blurred in social media. For the most part, we know the people who make up our audience. They are our friends, family, colleagues and neighbors. But, if you fail to see yourself as a gatekeeper, you’re failing to see your role in the bigger social media world.
The video of the WDBJ murders looks a bit like a video game. The killer specifically tried to mimic the first-person shooter perspective that is a large part of gaming culture.
But the victims were not avatars, and the story wasn’t based in a fictional world. The victims were real. Their families and friends are real.
It is up to us as social media users to reject content like this. We need to report it, delete it and unfriend or unfollow those who share it.
As consumers, we can be gatekeepers, too. In cases like this, our role as gatekeepers is to close the gate. In turn, we might open it to information that brings us a little closer together.
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.