As another contentious political season goes into high gear, it’s hard to know who has more to lose: Republicans, Democrats, or your favorite, friendly, neighborhood social media company.
Yes, it’s true; the divides between Right and Left are just as deep as they were two years, two decades – heck, two centuries – ago. Still, there’s one thing both sides agree on: social media is ruining U.S. political campaigns.
Not to be undone by attacks from political leaders, or outdone by lesser-known rival platforms who weren’t caught up in the 2016 election debacle, social media mega-corporations like Facebook and Twitter are doing their best to cleanse their systems of those who would disrupt the upcoming midterms.
On Monday, Facebook released a statement concerning increased security protocols meant to protect campaigns and candidates.
“Over the past year, we have invested in new technology and more people to stay ahead of bad actors who are determined to use Facebook to disrupt elections,” said Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy.
“Today we’re introducing additional tools to further secure candidates and campaign staff who may be particularly vulnerable to targeting by hackers and foreign adversaries.”
Facebook’s pilot program is intended to provide an extra layer of security to its existing collection of tools and procedures.
It’s not just the U.S. elections they’re worried about – after all, Facebook is a global company.
“We will apply what we learn to other elections in the U.S. and around the world,” Gleicher added.
If you’re running a campaign, add Facebook’s additional security protections to your Pages and accounts. As a page administrator, you can apply for the pilot program at politics.fb.com/campaignsecurity.
“We’ll help officials adopt our strongest account security protections, like two-factor authentication, and monitor for potential hacking threats,” Gleicher added.
Twitter is also trying to regain our trust.
Most analysts who’ve paid attention to Twitter’s recent moves to purge the platform of fake or dead accounts know that the microblogging site is also targeting far-left and far-right leaning accounts set on spreading misinformation.
Some of those critics also argue that Twitter’s role in campaign disruption should be much easier to handle. Emphasis on “should.” Twitter adjusts an algorithm, finds the bad actors, and shuts them down. But it’s not always that easy, and it’s hard to know sometimes what’s parody and what’s real.
It’s too soon to tell if this will renew our faith in social media to help us learn more about elections. They’re good first steps, so long as they can ensure security without stepping on free speech.
While Facebook and others try to restore confidence in their abilities to shield users from fake news and election disruptors, we know it’s a slow road to recovery. Restoring our confidence won’t happen anytime soon – and certainly not by Nov. 6.
If we think teens are oblivious to the dangers of social media, we might be wrong.
According to a new report by Common Sense Media, teens say they’re well aware of the risks. They know that social media distracts them from having real, in-person connections, but they also believe social media strengthens other relationships.
Focusing on 13- to 17-year-olds, researchers found that teens spend significantly more time on social media than they did just four years ago.
“What goes on in the minds of teenagers when they engage with social media, seemingly lost in their screens,” asked James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media. “It’s a question we as parents often ponder as we fret about the effects of social media on our children’s well-being.”
The percentage of teens who engaged with social media several times a day jumped 36 percent from 2012 to 2018, and their preference for face-to-face communication has dropped significantly over the same time period.
That’s a relationship we’d expect to see. Use social media (and technology) more, and you’ll have fewer face-to-face interactions.
Many teens believe that using social media has a positive effect on how they feel about themselves. The report also reaffirmed what some tech advocates have been saying for years, that social media is an important tool for teens who want to express themselves creatively.
But it’s not all memes and smiley faces.
Social media also had an important role among teens who reported being socially and emotionally vulnerable. Still, these teens tend to rely more on tech and social media in both positive and negative ways, regardless of the risks.
One of those negative habits has to do with an over-reliance on technology. In some ways, this report stresses what most parents have known for years, but maybe lack the skills to do anything about: teens need to work on their ability to self-regulate their uses of technology.
Sure. Teens know they’re distracted from engaging people in the same room, or focus on important tasks like homework. They simply don’t ignore their devices or lack the will to put them away.
“Teens are fully aware of the power of devices to distract them from key priorities, such as homework, sleep, and time with friends and family,” Steyer added.
The good news is that while some teens may be unable or unwilling to self-regulate their use of technology, at least they’re aware of the distraction.
Maybe that’s the silver lining to this entire study.
If they know how technology interferes with their daily lives, maybe it will make our jobs as parents a whole lot easier when we have to take their devices away – not as punishment, but to save them from themselves.
You can read the full report at commonsensemedia.org.
If your kids are headed to elementary school or college, you can help them manage the stress of day-to-day schedules and homework with the right app.
Actually, there are quite a few good apps for meeting you and your child’s educational needs. Here are a few tried-and-true apps:
myHomework lets students manage nearly every aspect of their school life, and from any device. You can track homework, tests and assignments, and get reminders when things are due thanks to a comprehensive calendar with time, block and period-based schedules.
If teachers use the app, students can automatically download their class information, assignments, files and announcements.
Any long-time reader of this column knows that we’re a mixed-tech-use household. So, apps that are both effective and cross-platform-compatible get high praise from the Earnheardts. We were able to install and run myHomework on Android phones, iPads, MacBook, and our clunky, old PC.
Dump the old-fashioned student planners and install myHomework for free or pay a mere $5 and get it ad-free for a year.
Check it out at myhomeworkapp.com.
Drund is a locally-owned company that builds internal, secure, community-centered platforms for different industries, but there’s no doubt that it has found a home in the education market.
With school-specific versions of Drund, school administrators can create community posts, teachers can send private messages to students and parents, and boosters can manage fundraisers and events.
I get regular updates with important notices about events, posts with images and videos from activities around the district.
Drund looks and feels like social media, but it’s not Facebook. Think of it as a more privately-controlled version of those bigger, less-secure social media platforms with more appropriate content for your kids.
Ask your school if it is using Drund and how you can access the platform.
Remind. Several teachers at our local school use this app, and we’ve been using it to communicate with teachers since our kids were in elementary school. Now our two oldest students are at the age when they can send and receive their own “reminders” with teachers.
Like the myHomework app, I’m not sure there’s a need for the old parent-teacher “communication” folders anymore. Plus, if your kids are like mine, those folders don’t always make it home (and sometimes disappear forever).
Thankfully, our teachers are increasingly ditching those folders for Remind.
The app connects parents and students with teachers to get daily updates on homework, tests and other classroom-related information. Note, however, that Remind isn’t always the best option for sending direct messages from parents to teachers because teachers usually have to initiate those conversations.
Remind is free and easy to use, and available on nearly all platforms.
I missed the Florida Georgia Line concert in Youngstown a few weeks ago. Feeling bummed, I started wondering if I was really experiencing FOMO, or this was something new.
Never heard of FOMO? It’s the acronym we use for the “fear of missing out,” a fairly common term for describing our feelings of anxiety when we might miss an opportunity for social interaction or a unique experience.
The term FOMO was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013.
But that wasn’t what I was feeling. There was no fear of missing out because, well, I was already missing out. This was something different.
It was envy.
I was envious of missing out on the experiences my friends were having. I call it EOMO or “envious of missing out.” Yes, Oxford Dictionary editors. You have my permission to use this in your 2019 edition.
Okay, maybe EOMO isn’t as catchy FOMO. Say EOMO three times fast. It doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as FOMO.
But the envy we feel about seeing our friends’ experiences play out on social media are real, feelings that conjure regret, frustration and negativity.
According to a study published in the August issue of Computers in Human Behavior, researchers Ruoyun Lin, Niels van de Ven and Sonja Utz found that Facebook users tend to be more envious of friends who post updates about experiential purchases (e.g., big vacations) more than material purchases (e.g., sports cars).
Lin’s team noted that if we see posts from friends that make us envious, we might become frustrated. It can ultimately damage our relationships as we become more negative toward those we envy. On the flip side, seeing those posts may motivate us to make our lives a little better. We might go out and make big purchases, and subsequently brag about those purchases on social media.
While it’s important to know “what” kinds of posts elicit these emotions, it’s just as important to know “why.”
Turns out that posts about experiences are more relevant to us than big, fancy material purchases. We’re more envious of posts made by friends who attend big events than those who post about buying new homes.
In reality, we actually see fewer posts about those material purchases. As Lin’s team noted, we prefer to see posts about experiential purchases even if they do elicit feelings of envy.
This is also true for those who post about their experiences. We believe we’re giving our friends the information they want. For example, those who post about their purchases believe their friends would much rather read about those experiences – such as attending a big concert in Youngstown – than a new car.
They’re right. I might have been feeling EOMO on that concert, but I was happy for my friends and motivated to attend that big concert next year.
Facebook celebrated the one-year anniversary of its birthday fundraiser feature last week with a big announcement.
During the first year, Facebook users raised more than $300 million for causes they care about using the birthday feature.
If you missed doing this for your own birthday, here’s how it works. Two weeks before your birthday, Facebook will begin posting messages in your Feed with an option for creating a fundraiser.
You might recall seeing notifications from your friends who initiated this feature, with invitations for you to support their causes on their special day.
The list of causes to support on Facebook is seemingly endless. You can pick from one of 750-thousand nonprofits based in the U.S. available for fundraising on Facebook.
According to Facebook, many users expressed an interest in wanting to dedicate their birthdays to a good cause, but those users also expressed some frustration in choosing from the enormous list of available nonprofits on the platform.
“To make this easier, we will soon provide more information: when you click on a nonprofit in the list, you can learn more about the organization, their mission, location and how many people like their Page,” said Asha Sharma, Facebook’s Head of Product for Social Good.
“We also plan to share more relevant information, like popular search terms in the nonprofit selection tool.”
Top beneficiaries of birthday fundraisers for the inaugural year included an eclectic, well known collection of non-profit organizations: St. Jude, Alzheimer’s Association, the American Cancer Society, Share Our Strength – No Kid Hungry, ASPCA.
Sure, it’s a feel-good Facebook feature that takes very little work on our part to launch, but it could generate some much-needed funds for other, lesser-known organizations.
It could also have an unintended outcome: leading your friends to learn more about those smaller nonprofits.
According to Sharma, celebrities are leveraging the Facebook birthday feature to mobilize their fans. For example, NBA star Stephen Curry, raised over $82,000 during his 30th birthday for Nothing But Nets to help combat childhood malaria.
Madonna used her 60th birthday to generate funds for Raising Malawi’s work at Home of Hope orphanage located in a rural, high-need area of Malawi.
“Based on feedback from the community, we added new tools to nonprofit fundraisers, like the ability to match donations and add organizers to your fundraiser,” Sharma added.
For example, if you’re a Facebook “Page” administrator – including Pages run by brands, public figures, and nonprofits – you can now create and donate to fundraisers.
“And we added a tool so people can make recurring monthly donations to the organizations and causes that are important to them,” Sharma said.
One of the best parts of the fundraising feature? Facebook started waiving fees in November 2017, so that 100 percent of all donations go directly to the nonprofits we’re supporting.
“It knows you’re here,” a trainer recently told me in front of a group of educators, my name and image now displayed on the massive screen before us.
“And it can hear you,” the trainer added with a creepy emphasis. Of course, he was trying to be creepy. He knew how disturbing it sounded.
We all gave uncomfortable chuckles. “Why not just add an evil genius laugh to go along with it,” someone added from the back of the room.
“Look, I know this sounds weird, but it only works in this classroom,” our fearless trainer trudged on, trying to dull our privacy and security concerns, with limited success.
As I later confirmed with the other educators, we weren’t just concerned for our own privacy, we were concerned for our students.
“Who’s to say someone can’t just get into this system, and get into a student’s device, and share...” another concerned educator asked from the back of the room.
I left off the end of her query on purpose because, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter what content on the “device” a “hacker” would “share.”
“Sounds like the birth of Skynet,” another educator added, referencing the artificial intelligence system that all but destroys humankind in the “Terminator” movie franchise.
These aren’t new fears, of course. Mention these concerns to any tech giant and they’ll simply brush them off as the public relations price of doing business.
Just this past week, fears over Google’s location tracking services surfaced following an in-depth AP investigation.
Here’s what we thought: Don’t want Google to track your every movement? Simply turn off your location data, right?
It so happens that Google is recording your movements even when you tell it not to, even when you whittle down through all of the security protocols on your device to find “location services” and turn it off.
It’s still on.
Well, sort of.
What the AP investigation found was that some services continue to store your locations even after you’ve set the privacy settings to forbid Google and other apps on your device from doing so.
We know when we want Google to track our movements. Google Maps is a good example. If you’ve turned off location services, and then open their Maps app, you’ll be prompted share location data. Google will tell you that Maps simply won’t work as well with location data turned off.
This is a purposeful action we take. We’re telling Google “it’s ok to track my movements.” It’s the stuff Google and other services are tracking without our permission that’s not ok.
We like the ease-of-use these apps provide. But it shouldn’t stop us from being vigilant in protecting our privacy, whether we’re in a classroom or trying to make our way around town.
Who knows? Maybe that vigilance will help us stave off a future Skynet attack.
Growing up in Brackenridge, Pa., in the 1970s, I had a few, close neighborhood friends. Our small steel town sits on the banks of the mighty Allegheny River, just north of Pittsburgh.
Yes, it still has a functioning steel mill. In fact, Brackenridge was, and in many ways still is, bustling with a blue-collar work ethic, a value that was hammered into us by family, friends and our surroundings.
Those few neighborhood friends and I swore we’d be best friends forever. We had so much in common: strangely dysfunctional home lives, fathers who worked in steel mills and related industries, and a fascination for what life must be like in faraway cities – like Pittsburgh.
Like most friends back then, we weren’t best friends forever. We moved on and lost touch, promises of life-long friendships evaporated by time and distance. We wrote letters, but not often, and only when we could find envelopes and money for stamps. We made phone calls, but only when our parents gave the okay to incur long-distance charges.
We valued work and friendship, but we didn’t really know how to work at maintaining those friendships without easily accessible communication tools.
That all changed in the last decade.
The tools we have for staying connected with close friends are built to help us get around those pesky time and distance problems.
So, when I learned a few weeks ago that our good friends would be leaving Youngstown for a parent’s new job in Texas, I panicked, if only for a moment. Our families are closely connected, our daughters linked perfectly in terms of ages and interests.
They’re BFFs (i.e., best friends forever).
Last night was the final play date for a while. Maybe forever. I was prepared with tissues and hugs for what certainly would be an evening of weeping and tears.
But the tears never came.
Sure, I was thinking back to my childhood friendships that vanished over time, reflecting on how sad I was in the moments when friends moved away.
Then I reconsidered how connected we are because of technology. In fact, I argue that my children are probably better connected to their BFFs than I am to my batch of friends.
They connect with distant friends everyday on apps like Amino and Instagram, games like Animal Jam and Roblox, on tablets and smartphones. They talk, collaborate and play. They know how to connect with others, and they put in the work to learn new apps because they value those friendships.
In the ’70s, I learned that staying connected with friends took a lot of work. But today I’m glad to see my kids reap the rewards for the work they do to learn and use those technologies to stay connected to their buddies – their BFFs.
DOYO Live, Youngstown’s digital marketing and interactive design conference, is back for year three, and the lineup of sessions and workshops led by industry professionals from around the country continues to impress.
Case in point: keynote speaker Allen Gannett, CEO of TrackMaven.
I caught up with Gannett this week to learn more about TrackMaven, his new book, and his advice for Youngstown’s DOYO Live audience.
Gannett’s company, TrackMaven, is a marketing insights platform. Think of marketing insights like this: Home Depot needs to reach customers through their ads and other marketing strategies. They do this through social media and other platforms.
TrackMaven steps in and “tracks” those ads and marketing campaigns, offering insights on the success of those strategies.
“A lot of big brands use us to figure out the stories and patterns in their marketing data – what should those companies do more of and less of,” Gannett explained.
In essence, TrackMaven tells those big brands if anyone is listening to those stories.
Telling stories for a company of any size often takes a little (and sometimes a lot) of creativity. While TrackMaven is delivering insights on marketing campaigns, Gannett – in his book “The Creative Curve” – is providing insights on the path to creativity.
Here’s the catch: His advice isn’t just for the creative minds at those big companies.
“Creativity is most valuable in industries that are typically not creative,” Gannett said. “If you’re in financial services or insurance, remember that’s where creativity can be a big differentiator.”
Gannett explained that it’s great to be creative at Google, but everyone’s creative at Google.
“Where it’s valuable to be creative is in insurance or bank marketing,” Gannett said. “There’s a huge delta opportunity there.”
“The Creative Curve” has received high praise from other creative thinkers.
“It’s been cool to see that people from a wide variety of creative fields have had a positive impact from the book,” Gannett added. “Fine artists said [“The Creative Curve”] has really been a way to add some fidelity to their thinking around creativity, but I’ve also had marketers who have said it’s helping them in their campaigns.”
One of the biggest challenges we face is the dreaded creative slump. But Gannett has a solution. Rather than brute forcing your way into productivity, he says to focus on consuming more raw materials.
“Your brain is really good at coming up with new ideas if it has these raw materials to work with,” Gannett explained. “Great creative achievers spend a lot of time consuming materials in their creative niche. They take those materials, gnaw on them and come up with new ideas.”
“You need dots to connect if you’re going to connect the dots.”
DOYO Live workshops were held August 1, and a full slate of sessions – including Gannett’s keynote – were held August 2 at the DeYor Performing Arts Center.
July marks the five-year anniversary of the first use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, and what many social media critics consider the birth of hashtag activism.
What makes the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag remarkable, beyond serving as a catalyst for both online and offline discussions, is its ability to bring people to Twitter and other platforms to generate more awareness for this and other important issues.
For example, #MeToo, #MAGA and newer campaigns have gained so much attention that they are now part of our everyday vernacular. Mention any of these hashtags in conversation and most people will know what issue you’re referencing.
Online activism doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Again, consider the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the hashtag was used nearly 30 million times on Twitter. That’s a bit more than 17 thousand times per day.
“The conversations surrounding this hashtag often center on issues related to race, violence and law enforcement, and its usage periodically surges surrounding real-world events,” the report states.
It seems that Americans are interested in participating in these conversations and, more importantly, they believe online activism is, for the most part, working.
In other words, online activism can lead to changes.
“Majorities of Americans do believe these sites are very or somewhat important for accomplishing a range of political goals, such as getting politicians to pay attention to issues (69 percent of Americans feel these platforms are important for this purpose) or creating sustained movements for social change (67 percent),” the report added.
Social media users who are black believe Twitter and hashtag activism are necessary for their own political engagement.
“Roughly half of black social media users say these platforms are at least somewhat personally important to them as a venue for expressing their political views or for getting involved with issues that are important to them,” the report states.
This falls to about a third for white social media users.
Although some social media users may be more politically active and engaged online, opinions are divided as to whether or not hashtags are useful for improving political discourse.
“Some 64 percent of Americans feel that the statement ‘social media help give a voice to underrepresented groups’ describes these sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) very or somewhat well. But a larger share say social networking sites distract people from issues that are truly important (77 percent), and 71 percent agree with the assertion that ‘social media makes people believe they’re making a difference when they really aren’t,’” the report added.
Regardless of race, users also seem divided on the benefits and costs of hashtag activism, but the majority of black Americans say Twitter helps to promote important issues and give voice to underrepresented groups.
So long as access is free and open, hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter will live on to promote social change.
Twitter purged millions of fake accounts from its platform last week.
Most of the stories about the Great Twitter Purge of 2018 focused on the millions of followers lost by celebrities and politicians like Justin Bieber and Barak Obama.
Singer Katy Perry took one of the biggest hits, losing more than 2.8 million followers in one day.
If you were here, you’d see a small tear rolling down my left cheek as I type this.
News organizations weren’t immune. CNN dropped 1 million followers, the New York Times lost a little more than 700,000.
Ironically, it was The New York Times who published an expose of a Florida-based firm that sold fake followers, likes and retweets, and other services to boost the social media profiles. It’s probably no surprise that those who purchased these fake accounts were celebrities and politicians.
By their own accounts, it was probably that New York Times investigation that got the purge ball rolling at Twitter, prompting calls for action from Congress and the Federal Trade Commission.
“Over the years, we’ve locked accounts when we detected sudden changes in account behavior,” said Vijaya Gadde, safety lead and Twitter’s director of legal, public policy and trust.
“In these situations, we reach out to the owners of the accounts and unless they validate the account and reset their passwords, we keep them locked with no ability to log in.”
For normal, noncelebrity-types like you and me, the hit was nominal, like a blip on the social media radar. In fact, most users lost an average of four followers.
Four. That’s it.
“We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation,” Gadde added.
And therein lies the real reason why this purge matters, the reason that gets buried in these stories about the millions of fake followers lost to people who didn’t need them anyway (i.e., Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, etc.).
The real reason: improved conversations, or more specifically, the steps Twitter is taking to improve our public conversations. It starts with dumping fake, locked accounts.
Your Twitter conversations are public. Anything Twitter does to make those conversations more civil and genuine should be viewed as a win.
“Our ongoing work to improve the health of conversations on Twitter encompasses all aspects of our service,” Gadde added.
Sure, the purge focused on followers, and not likes and retweets, because follower count is likely the most visible feature on Twitter, the feature most associated with credibility.
In other words, see someone with a million followers, and boom – instant credibility.
This is not to suggest that Bieber and Obama are any more or less credible now, only that the story is less about their loss of followers and more about our improved discourse on Twitter and, hopefully, elsewhere.
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.