Our two oldest daughters are best friends.
The eldest, a teenager, sees herself as a sort of guide for her little sister, a pre-teen.
They both share the same interests, art and anime. They share secrets. They stay up long hours chatting away about nonsensical things.
My kids also bond over social media, specifically Instagram, the elder sister teaching her young apprentice the tips and tricks for curating and sharing the best content.
They post silly pictures, favorite art and anime clips, and they use the platform as a way to celebrate their sisterhood.
I follow them on Instagram. I’m a snoop, an over-protective father, and I need to be sure no one is posting inappropriate content.
I’m also genuinely interested in seeing how they and their friends are using social media to cultivate relationships. I learn so much about how to use social media simply through observation.
Turns out they’re much better at this whole social media thing than most of us.
They know the importance of being lighthearted, and how to not take themselves (or life) too seriously.
Our teens and pre-teens see the benefits of using social media and how those benefits far outweigh the costs.
A Pew Research Center study released recently suggests that many teens know the costs of using social media, and they understand the challenges of growing up with technology.
They also realize the benefits to using technology, such as staying better connected to friends and learning about the world.
According to the study, teens say they sometimes feel “overwhelmed by the drama on social media and pressure to construct only positive images of themselves, they simultaneously credit these online platforms with several positive outcomes – including strengthening friendships.”
Teens also like seeing different ideas, values and opinions, and helping fellow teens with important causes.
Of the 13- to 17-year-olds surveyed, 81-percent said social media made them feel “more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives,” and 68-percent said social media made them feel as if they had people who would “support them through tough times.”
Many teens had positive rather than negative emotions about their social media use. For example, 71-percent said they felt included (as opposed to excluded) and 69-percent felt confident (as opposed to insecure).
Some also recognized the negative aspects, such as the 45 percent who felt a little overwhelmed by the drama on social media, and 37 percent who felt pressure to only post content that would generate a lot of comments and likes.
Like my daughters who see the value in using social media to learn about the world and connect with friends, it’s clear that other teens see those same benefits. And when we see those benefits through the eyes of our children, it allows us to reassess the value we see in our own uses of social media.
Narcissus is one of my favorite characters from Greek mythology.
If you’re not familiar with his story, it’s a simple yet powerful and cautionary tale.
As Narcissus walked by a lake, he stopped for a drink. When he leaned down, he saw his reflection in the water and was surprised by the youth and beauty staring back at him.
Narcissus became transfixed by his reflection, how young and handsome he looked.
He died on the bank of the lake from sorrow because he could not reclaim the beauty of his youth, and he could not look away.
Narcissus would have loved social media and the ability to see his image reflected back at him on platforms such as Instagram, in pictures and posts, all searchable with hashtags and keywords.
Narcissus would have died in front of his computer screen with a mouse in one hand and his smartphone in the other.
Beyond the myth, we have Narcissus to thank for the oft-used term that describes our obsession with seeing ourselves on social media: narcissism.
Today’s Narcissus is not myth. He and she are alive and well, and now we have data to prove it.
In the December issue of Computers In Human Behavior, researchers Antonia Erz, Ben Marder and Elena Osadchaya of the Copenhagen Business School identified what drives social media influencers and followers to use hashtags and other “look at me” strategies for self-promotion.
When looking at Instagram, Erz’s team found telltale signs of narcissism.
“Influencers... are heavy hashtag-users,” Erz’s team noted. These influencers also had a high followers-to-followings ratio, which means they had a high number of followers, but they didn’t really follow many others in return.
They also found that influencers were driven by motives of self-presentation through hashtags and “look at me” status-seeking on the image-sharing platform.
Influencers in this study had high scores for narcissism, extraversion and self-monitoring traits. In other words, influencers spent more time looking at themselves on social media, with deep concern over how they were seen by others, rather than making stronger connections to their followers.
Erz’s team found that, in recent years, some social media platforms have “experienced a growing number of influencers and microcelebrities, who use social media to connect, not for the sake of community but for the sake of broadcasting themselves.”
And apparently influencers love hashtags.
“We show that users who chose Instagram to seek status, were largely driven by self-presentation motives, which in turn increased the propensity to add hashtags and use many hashtags in a post,” Erz’s team added.
If we’re caught up in the endless cycle of searching for likes and shares for the content and witty hashtags we post, it’s time to look away from our social media reflections.
After all, legend has it that Narcissus is still admiring himself in the afterlife, searching the waters of the River Styx for his reflection.
It’s no secret that Facebook has been in image repair mode for the better part of two years.
Although they won’t come right out and say it, Facebook puts part of the blame on us and some of the content we post and share.
In an effort to clean up their act (and ours, apparently), Facebook has spent considerable time and money deleting user posts that violate “community standards.”
To do this, they’ve hired an army of reviewers to eliminate bad content. They’re also constantly tweaking algorithms to identify potential violations.
What Facebook’s army specifically hopes to curtail are posts that include adult nudity and sexual activity, fake accounts, hate speech, spam, terrorist propaganda, and violence and graphic content.
“Over the last two years, we’ve invested heavily in technology and people to more effectively remove bad content from our services,” said Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management.
Facebook published the first report of these policing efforts in May.
That report was meant to show us the types of content that were detected and removed so that we could see just how well Facebook was enforcing its standards.
The report also revealed how much work is left to do.
“People will only be comfortable sharing on Facebook if they feel safe,” Rosen said.
A second report posted last week detailed improvement over the past six months. The update included new categories on the number of posts removed related to bullying and harassment, and sexual exploitation of children.
“We are getting better at proactively identifying violating content before anyone reports it, specifically for hate speech and violence and graphic content. But there are still areas where we have more work to do,” Rosen added.
Two content categories Facebook highlighted in its most recent report focused on successes in deleting posts with hate speech and graphic content.
The amount of hate speech Facebook deleted from the platform more than doubled from its first report, from 24 percent to 52 percent. Detection of posts with violence and graphic content also improved from 72 percent to 97 percent.
The biggest win, according to Facebook, is that most of these posts are being removed before anyone sees them.
“The majority of posts that we take down for hate speech are posts that we’ve found before anyone reported them to us,” Rosen said.
To get a sense of the volume of content, consider this: during a three-month period, Facebook took action on 15.4 million pieces of violent and graphic content. This means there may have been millions of other pieces of content that Facebook didn’t take action on, but still reviewed.
The report also noted the types of actions Facebook took on content violations.
“This included removing content, putting a warning screen over it, disabling the offending account or escalating content to law enforcement,” Rosen said.
You can read the report by searching “Community Standards Enforcement” at newsroom.fb.com.
The paradox of my life as a social media researcher and columnist is that using Facebook, Twitter and other platforms makes it harder for me to write.
How can this be so? After all, “to write about social media with credibility, I must immerse myself in it,” or so I used to think.
Every Monday night I start to get the twitch of horror and anticipation that precedes my weekly musings and, instead of opening a new document and recording my thoughts, I do what many other writers do: I check my social media feeds.
I look to see who’s out and about. I scan events happening around me. I read news and reactions to the big stories of the day.
According to Statista, the daily average time a person spent on social media in 2017 was 135 minutes. If that’s so, I use at least 134 of these minutes screwing around while my deadline for this column approaches.
The only comfort I have is in the knowledge that I’m not alone. A quick web search of “writers,” “social media,” and “distractions” results in thousands of columns by fellow writers facing the same dilemma.
So, in an attempt to focus less on deadlines and more on my readers, I’ve started using strategies advocated by these fellow writers.
First, as with everything, there’s an app that does most of the hard work – at least when I’m on my laptop.
Freedom is software that comes in the form of a download for your Mac or Windows-enabled device. It’s also available as a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
According to Freedom’s description, “every time you check email, a social feed or respond to a notification, your mind requires 23 minutes of re-focus time to get back on task.”
Freedom helps control those distractions by blocking sites I tell it to, for time periods I specify. Even if I try to visit Twitter after blocking access, that little reminder that I’ve blocked it is often all I need to refocus on an important task.
Second, I bought a brand new legal pad and sharpened a box of No. 2 pencils.
According to productivity experts, writing longhand has several benefits beyond getting me away from my laptop and smartphone.
Writing longhand stimulates parts of the brain similar to those activated by meditation. Another benefit is that I write much slower than I type. This slower pace is linked to better thinking and more creativity.
In the end, few people would suggest we give up social media altogether.
But the next time you need to pull away from social media to complete a task – whether it’s a column, a term paper, or the next best-selling novel – remember that a little help and self-discipline go a long way to beating deadlines.
Editor’s note: Adam submitted this 12 hours before his scheduled deadline.
This past Monday, I counted the email in my in-box from the weekend. There were 138 received between late Friday night (when I stopped reading) and early Monday morning. This doesn’t count junk and spam.
Ok. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot.
On a typical weekday, I receive 100-plus emails, and on busy days, it’s double that. I’ve spoken with friends and colleagues who receive far more on busy days.
Imagine being an editor for a newspaper, receiving an endless stream of email announcements about community events, concerts and lectures, and bake sales.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, we spend about 28 percent of our workday reading and replying to email. Of course, that percentage varies greatly depending on your industry and job.
And then there are those of us who manage multiple email accounts. Last count puts the email addresses I maintain at 12.
Beyond my personal Gmail account, I also manage a work address and several organization email accounts. Some get more attention than others, and some get ignored for days at a time. There isn’t enough time to read it all.
Like many of my friends who manage multiple accounts, I’m accessing different email management platforms throughout the day – Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Microsoft Outlook – and on multiple devices (laptops, desktops, smartphones).
Don’t get me started on messaging apps (i.e., Facebook Messenger) and texting. That’s a column topic for another day.
Anyone who receives this volume of email will tell you that it feels incredibly overwhelming.
“Sorry I didn’t see your email. It’s a losing battle,” a colleague lamented this week when I asked if he had time to read my email. “Sifting through it all to find what’s important? What’s urgent? I’m drowning in email.”
I told him that scanning has become a go-to strategy for “reading” it all. Most of us are very good at scanning our in-boxes, looking for keywords or phrases, familiar email addresses and names that we deem important enough to open.
According to digital marketing expert Lon Safko, the average person spends 2.5 seconds scanning an email. For some, it takes a split-second to determine the worth of an email based on sender and subject line.
Our email scanning skills have to be precise, but they also have to be adaptable. We have to know when to choose other communication channels.
Marketing consultant and creative strategist Annabel Acton notes that we have options for staying ahead of it. Her suggestions for cutting through the clutter include:
Blocking out time each day just for reading email, but avoid the urge to read email at other times.
Only reading and react to an email once; don’t save it for later.
Knowing when email isn’t always the best response option; try calling or sending a video message.
The digital divide is preventing nearly one-in-five teens from completing their homework, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the digital divide refers to gap between those with and without access to computers and internet access.
“Roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17 and whose annual income falls below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6 percent of such households earning $75,000 or more a year,” said Pew researchers Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin.
Wait. I thought all teens had access to smartphones. We’ll get back to that in a second.
The digital divide has resulted into what’s now referred to as the “homework gap.” This gap was a serious problem for teens in some urban and rural districts in the early years of the internet, when high-speed access and technology hadn’t quite reached low-income homes.
Indeed, the gap can be an academic obstacle for teens without access to the fast, reliable technology at home. Students without access to computers can’t to do simple searches, have a harder time finding help with math problems, and have difficulties staying up-to-date with current research and definitions.
“Black teens, as well as those from lower-income households, are especially likely to face these school-related challenges as a result,” Anderson and Perrin said.
It’s surprising that there’s still a digital divide thanks to the abundant and near-constant access teens have to smartphones.
Consider this: A previous Pew study, also co-authored by Anderson, noted that 95 percent of teens have (or have access to) a smartphone.
While some teens report having trouble completing homework due to limited broadband and internet access, most of them are also carry around what amounts to a super computer in their hands. It’s not unreasonable then to assume that these same devices would be available to students in their homes.
Smartphones are mostly outlawed in schools, and for good reason. They’re a distraction. But so is worrying about having the right tools for completing assignments.
Perceptions of what smartphones can do for students at home and school must be changed, but for this we need teachers to step in.
Teachers who want to bridge the divide should encourage students to bring their phones to school, to use in class, and to complete homework.
Let’s start letting them use their devices to solve problems, not just to take and share selfies.
Learning how to download and use homework help apps, and strategies for doing mobile research, are essential next steps to closing the gap.
After all, learning how to solve homework problems on their smartphones now will set them up for solving real problems later in life.
To read the full report, go to pewresearch.org and search “digital divide.”
Online discussion boards were all the rage “back in my day.”
Yes, I know this sounds like old man Earnheardt, sitting on his social media front-porch rocking chair, reminiscing about the glory days of the internet.
But I actually uttered those words in class last week. “Back in my day.”
Truth is, discussion boards are alive and well. They’re just as relevant today as they were “back in my day.” They’re still a necessity for asking questions, sharing knowledge, and building community.
In the ’90s and early ’00s, webmasters built sites with pages upon pages of information. The only interactive features were discussion boards.
As a webmaster, these boards helped me build websites. Boundless discussions on coding, graphics and design, a novice developer could easily access text-based tutorials and expert strategies in a matter of a few clicks.
Yes, I’m referring to discussion boards in the past tense, as though they’ve gone the way of the dinosaur. But they’re still here, and some just look a little different.
Consider sites such as Reddit and Quora, discussion board-like platforms with social media features. These sites are perfect for engaging an eclectic audience of experts and newbies.
The problem with these boards today, however, is that the same netiquette problems that have corrupted social media have crept into our discussion board spaces.
Or was it the misuse of discussion boards that corrupted social media?
Anonymity. Trolling. Flaming. Bullying. These were all hallmark antisocial behaviors of a small group of discussion board participants long before social media arrived.
It’s easy to remember the netiquette problems we faced long before social media rolled around.
The solution might be in the most likely place: the classroom. Going back to school might be an easy fix for these types of behaviors, in all forms of online interaction.
As an educator, I use discussion boards all the time in face-to-face and online courses. They’re an education staple.
Post a question or thought-provoking statement and ask your students to respond. Then ask your students to respond to other students. It’s exciting to watch the conversations that ensue.
When I’m teaching a face-to-face course, it’s easy to bring those online conversations into the classroom for deeper discussions.
It’s in these classes that we talk about appropriate discussion board behavior. We talk about community-building dialog. They ask questions online while building meaningful conversations and weaving in nonverbal cues (e.g., smiley faces). They engage in banter that we don’t have time for in our regular class meetings.
My students will tell you that what makes someone want to engage in an online discussion are the feelings of inclusiveness and the sense that they’re being heard.
My students are doing what I hope we all find we want and need from discussion boards: to connect, to learn, and to build community.
We get a lot of email from people in the community with questions about social media.
“How do I [blank] on Facebook” or “Where can I find [blank] settings on Snapchat?”
It’s a laundry list of questions that usually involve changes to basic settings, and strategies for connecting with their friends, and sometimes, customers.
The answers we give are often followed with another question: “Do you have a student who can help?”
We teach social media courses at Youngstown State University. Those courses are part of a special track in our communication studies bachelor’s degree program.
As you might imagine, it’s a popular track. In fact, it’s now a sort of a destination program, attracting students from around the country who want to learn social media theory and applications.
Of course, we were teaching about social media before we started the track, but now we focus almost exclusively on preparing students for careers as social media designers and directors.
Our graduates are managing and curating social media accounts in all types of industries, from Fortune 500 companies to nonprofit organizations.
In response to the questions we get about social media and our students, we’ve gathered local experts and our students to launch a new series.
This spring, we’re excited to offer the first “YSU Social Media Essentials Brown Bag Series.”
Each session will feature a social media expert and focus on a specific platform. Sessions last 90 minutes. The first half will focus on platform basics and the second half on questions, giving attendees an opportunity to interact with each other and with our social media experts.
We’ll have students from our social media program on hand to answer questions and offer basic tips.
Here’s the schedule:
Feb. 5: Instagram. Jamie Jamison has an impressive following on Instagram. She’s an Instagram “influencer” and an instructor in our communication studies program. She also runs her own social media coaching business.
March 5: Twitter. Kati Hartwig, a graduate of our master’s program in professional communication, is coordinator of social media and digital marketing at YSU and an expert on all-things Twitter.
March 26: Facebook Live. Dennis Schiraldi, founder of DOYO Live, is one of our amazing social media instructors at YSU. Dennis has produced an endless stream of valuable Facebook 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, knows Snapchat. If you want to reach a millennial audience, Ryan will teach you the basics.
Each session begins at noon in YSU’s Kilcawley Student Center Ohio Room.
The series is free, but you must register via email at email@example.com.
“Hi... I actually got another friend request from you which I ignored so you may want to check your account.”
That’s a message millions received from Facebook friends over the past few days.
If you followed the instructions and forward the message to your friends, you’re probably feeling a bit ashamed right now.
“Stop! Ignore it! Delete it! Don’t forward it to all of your friends,” someone posted on Facebook, lamenting those duped by the hoax.
If you did forward the message, you shouldn’t feel shame. You care about your friends, for which you should be commended, not chastised.
We all have Facebook friends who aren’t necessarily “friends” in the traditional sense of the definition.
We also know that our traditional definition for friend doesn’t apply to Facebook. We try so hard not to conflate the noun with the verb in conversations: “I don’t mean Joe is my friend in real life. He just friended me on Facebook.”
Even Merriam-Webster knows the difference.
Dictionary editors expanded the definition of friend with alternatives such as friended and friending, in part to capture the meaning of the transitive verb.
I’m not sure Mark Zuckerberg knew what he was doing when he landed on that term – friend – as the signifier for adding people to our Facebook networks. By all accounts, Zuckerberg had few real friends at the time he created Facebook, so it’s likely he didn’t contemplate the implications for choosing that term.
Or did he?
When Facebook exploded in popularity, it was not only because of the number of new people who joined, but because of the number of new personal networks it cultivated for us. Zuckerberg was, in fact, growing Facebook by redefining the word “friend” in terms of networks, not individuals.
Imagine snowballs rolling down a hill, smashing into each other to create larger snowballs – not an avalanche, but fast like one, with seemingly unending momentum.
Those snowballs are our networks. They smash into one another. They mingle. They create connections we might otherwise never experience.
This is true of people who aren’t really our friends, at least not in the true sense of the definition. We’ve simply added them as friends because, truth be told, it feels good to get a friend request.
It’s a fleeting euphoric feeling, a dopamine hit. Maybe not for everyone, but for enough people that friend requests are approved with minimal scrutiny of those on the other end of the requests.
It’s what made this latest Facebook hoax so problematic. We default to the traditional definition of friend.
We care about our friends. We want to protect them from danger.
If you were one of the millions who forwarded the hoax to everyone in your network, don’t feel bad.
Feel good knowing that you care enough about your friends to protect them, even if they’re just Facebook friends.
(part two of two)
There’s nothing quite as tedious as the eye roll of a teenager. It’s irritating.
It can also be encouraging.
Most parents I speak with get the “irritating” part, but “encouraging” is not a word they use when describing that quick flick of the eyeballs, shifted ever so briefly to the heavens as the ultimate sign of contempt.
This is exactly the reaction I got from my teenager and her lackey, my pre-teen who, at 11-years-old, is serving as understudy to the sulky ways of her older sister.
Their contempt for me today (yes, it changes depending on the day) rests with a correction I gave when they mistakenly referred to someone as a cyberbully.
The target of their cyberbullying accusation was a player on the massively popular platform Roblox. Except that it wasn’t cyberbullying. It was game play.
“Most kids don’t bully or cyberbully. You know that right?” I asked my daughters. “So what makes you think Tam07 (the accused) is a cyberbully?”
They responded with terms and words that were all related not to cyberbullying, but to game play – the kinds of things you hear kids say when they’re losing. Badly.
“She kept blocking,” “She wouldn’t get out of the way,” and “She never responded no matter how many times we told her to stop.”It sounded like Tam07 was simply kicking their little sister’s butt on a game she probably wasn’t old enough to play.
I explained that Tam07 was probably older and knew game strategies and tricks that their 8-year-old sister didn’t understand.
“That’s not cyberbullying,” I said.
More importantly, I explained what cyberbullying is.
“Imagine if Tam07 was constantly harassing your little sister on this game, calling her names, following her around and being mean to her, making her feel bad or hurt. Imagine if she threatened your sister.”
“That’s cyberbullying,” I said.
Here are the steps I told them to follow if they see a cyberbully:
Tell a grown-up. I even tell my older friends, most of whom are technically grown-ups, to ask others if they think the activity they’re seeing online is, in fact, cyberbullying.
Don’t react to the cyberbully. This goes for kids and for parents. It’s hard to keep your cool when your kid is being bullied. Instead, document the evidence and report the bully when you think it’s time.
Block and delete. Two of the most powerful tools on smartphones, games, and social media: block and delete. Some platforms will only let you block, but sometimes that’s all you need to stop the harassment.
Sure, I may have been a little irritated with their eye roll reactions, but I was encouraged when my kids actually listened to me explain how to identify a cyberbully, and what to do when they see one.
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.