This column first appeared in the January 12, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Twitter’s Director of Product Suzanne Xie introduced new options for limiting replies to our tweets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.
If you’re not a Twitter user, here’s what this means. When we post a tweet, we’ll have the option of deciding who (if anyone) can reply.
The “Conversation Participants” feature will provide us choices for the kind of replies we’d like our tweets to receive.
In the current format, everyone can reply. Authors already have the option to hide certain replies (i.e., harassment, threats, etc.) that viewers can opt to reveal and, if needed, report.
With the Conversation Participants tool, authors will have four options for replies, including:
This all seems fairly straightforward and good for users until politics are introduced to the mix.
Keep in mind that Twitter is testing this change now, in the heat of a presidential election.
It’s difficult to know how some of our political leaders and candidates will react when they have access to these new settings.
Consider President Trump’s use of Twitter.
Trump is arguably one of the most prolific leaders in Twitter’s young life. One could also argue that Twitter continues to sees regular daily active traffic because of Trump’s tweets.
As a political agnostic (at least in public forums like this column), I get to examine both the good and bad in Trump’s tweets without fear of praising or bashing him.
The “good” is that our First Amendment appears to be intact, evidenced by the space Twitter and other platforms provide for free expression. This space is for everyone, from our friends and family to celebrities, athletes and, of course, political leaders. Regardless of status, there’s an opportunity for us to all interact in this same space.
The bad is that our posts, including those from Trump, could be viewed as more divisive than open to debate.
Many of Trump’s tweets are meant to be divisive. They’re designed to bolster supporters and anger opponents.
Some view Trump’s tweets and argue that he encourages debate.
Others look at his tweets as lacking in the kind of demeanor we expect from leaders. After all, he’s known for blocking users who disagree with him. So if his intent is to stimulate debate, silencing some voices seems counter-intuitive.
And therein lies the problem with Twitter’s Conversation Participants feature. How Trump and other candidates may use (or abuse) it is causing some concern among Twitter users.
The fear is that Trump may set his tweets with the “Group” option and permit only those who agree with him to reply to his posts, or worse, set them as “Statement” to block all replies.
It could also lead another court challenge. Six month ago, a federal appeals court ruled Trump was not permitted to block his critics on Twitter. Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked individual users who were critical of him.
If he chooses to use the “Group” option, it could be that Trump and other leaders may find themselves, yet again, defending their interpretation of the First Amendment.
This column first appeared in the January 5, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Predictions are an art form. They’re part science, part luck.
Mostly it’s just fun to predict the future.
Because of this, some predictions are easy to make. For example, predicting what will happen in social media and technology over the next year is a fairly simple, entertaining process.
To do this, we research tech trends and pathways, and make assumptions about what might happen next.
Many of my friends predict social media trends the same way experts predict the weather. Meteorologists have fine-tuned the art of weather predicting to a nearly exact science.
Before modern day meteorology, we relied on strategies like, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors warning.” I still recite that line to my kids. See a beautiful sunset? Tomorrow’s weather will be great. See a red sky in the morning? Today’s weather will be bad.
The point is, true or not, we no longer rely solely on old unscientific methods.
But that doesn’t make it any less fun to see the outcome.
This is certainly true of Punxsutawney Phil.
I’ve driven through Punxsutawney (a.k.a Punxy) over the past 20 years to visit my wife’s family. When we pass through Punxy, she regales us with stories of her Groundhog Day jitney service, how she’d shuttle revelers from downtown to Gobblers Knob to hear Phil’s prediction.
In all those trips to Punxy, I never once participated in Goundhog Day. I missed my chance to stand in freezing temperatures at 7:00 A.M. I missed warm cups of hot cocoa and pancake breakfasts that are apparently important parts of a proper Groundhog Day celebration.
I missed all the fun.
Most of us can probably guess Phil’s prediction every year, but that’s not the point. People show up to see Phil because it’s entertaining. Ironically, aside from poor weather conditions, there’s little harm in playing along.
So, like Phil and the great people of Punxy, I’ve had some fun making some less-than-bold predictions over the years about where I think social media and tech is headed.
Thanks, in part, to guidance from great tech journalists and bloggers at publications like Tech Advisor, Wired, and MIT’s Technology Review, I’ve done okay.
Two predictions I continue to believe in: virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and enhanced privacy and security.
First, as fellow tech prognosticators have suggested, VR/AR continue to grow in term of offerings (e.g., applications, games) and users. Prices for some midlevel VR headsets are now more affordable, and the number of free applications on Google Play and Apple has more than doubled over the last year.
This signals a great year ahead for the VR/AR industry.
Second, privacy and regulation will continue to dog social media. As we enter into another election year, most platforms look and feel different than they did in 2016. But most are still not the spaces most of us need to have meaningful debates.
With increased oversight and self-regulation, many platforms will continue to make valiant attempts at creating open, positive, productive environments for voters, candidates and campaigns—and hopefully make us feel a little safer.
Whether your predictions are more luck than science, just remember there’s usually no harm guessing. Just like dowloading apps or using new tech, it’s fun to predict, and most of us need more fun in our lives.
This column first appeared in the December 29, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
From politics, to privacy, to protection problems, 2019 was tumultuous year in world of social media.
Just when we thought it was safe to revisit our favorite social platforms, reports of new security breaches and record-setting fines emerged, as did concerns over efforts (or lack thereof) to protect our kids.
Here are a few of the top social stories from 2019:
1. Google/YouTube’s Record Day. As Facebook continues to dig out of the crater it dug in the wake of the 2016 election, other platforms have experienced their own pain. Even with the heaps of negative backlash they endured, Facebook was not the leading culprit this year.
2019’s “Social Media Bad Guy” title goes to Google and YouTube who agreed to pay a record fine of $170 million for alleged violations of the Children’s Privacy Act. It’s not the first time the Federal Trade Commission levied a fine against the Internet giant. In 2012, Google paid out a (then) record $22 million fine to the FTC.
The new fine is pennies-on-the-dollar for Google, but the decision will have long-lasting ripple effects—not because of the money lost, but because of the new rules YouTube will have to implement to protect young viewers.
Many of the leading creators of children’s content will almost certainly suffer in terms of monetization. Those who make child-centered videos can’t include personalized ads, and can only collect limited data.
Of course, those who will suffer the most are the parents who will now struggle to find new, safe, educational, entertaining, and (mostly) free content on the world’s largest streaming video provider.
2. Hiding Like Counts. Top platforms like Instagram and Facebook are dabbling with “hidden like count” algorithms. These tests center on a desire to build healthier social environments by protecting our mental well-being.
Instagram started hiding likes for some users in Canada in early-2019, and later in six other countries. Facebook began hiding likes in Australia in late-2019. U.S. users will likely see these changes on both platforms in 2020.
But not everyone is happy with the change.
Content creators criticized it claiming they use like counts to attract partners and sponsors. However, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said, “We’ll make decisions that hurt (Instagram) if they help our user’s health and wellbeing.”
3. Facebook Is (Still) #1. Remember your friends who said they were quitting Facebook? Well, if that happened, Facebook found a way to recoup those losses with new users.
This is likely because it’s still the best choice if your goal is to connect with others.
Those closest to us often use Facebook. So we often turn to easily accessible applications to manage those relationships. The top choice on that list for many people is Facebook—on a smartphone.
According to the Pew Research Center, 81-percent of U.S. adults report owning a smartphone device. That percentage is expected to rise over the next decade as a new generation of smartphone users enter the market.
Popular social applications like Instagram and Messenger use Facebook login credentials for access, while merchants use the Facebook login as a starting point for selling goods and services.
For these reasons and more, it’s not hard to understand why users still “like” Facebook, even if some won’t admit it publicly.
This column first appeared in the December 22, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Hope all is well up north and that plans for the annual all-nighter are nearly complete.
I’m writing to apologize for the lack of Christmas wish lists you’re seeing from my kids over the last few years.
Yes, they still believe in you. All four of them were super excited when I brought home a life-size inflatable yard decoration of you, and they still sing Christmas carols that reference your jolliness.
Our 7-year-old doesn’t always make good choices, so wisely, he fears you (in a healthy way).
All this aside, they’ve opted to stop writing to you. The reason: online shopping.
At first I blamed Jeff Bezos, but I’ve come to realize I’m part of the problem.
Our kids are in high demand at the holidays. It’s not just you who’s excited to spoil them. Even before we hit Thanksgiving dinner, family have started asking them what they want for Christmas.
I’m OK with that, but online shopping has allowed them to cut out the middleman. Instead of sitting at the table and carefully recording the names of toys from paper catalogs, they tell the aunts and uncles, “Dad’ll send you a link to my Amazon list.”
Of course my reaction to our youngest kids (they’re our most fervent Santa believers) was, “Well, how do you know Santa will see it?”
This generated two unexpected responses.
The first came from my 7-year-old.
“You said he sees and knows everything,” he replied. “So, he already knows what’s on my Amazon list.”
The second came from my 9-year-old.
“Even if he doesn’t know, you can share it with him, right?” Sadie asked. “You shared it with everyone else. Don’t you have his email address?”
(Note to self: find Santa’s email address)
None of this would matter if we just wrote normal letters like we did when I was a kid. You know, good ol’ fashioned paper and pencil with the occasional crayon?
Instead, everything is high-tech these days.
Jeff (sorry, Mr. Bezos) has certainly made it easier for all of the gift-givers. But I fear he’s made wish list writing a little too easy and impersonal.
Remember that letter I wrote to you when I was 8? I know you do. It was a brilliant piece of prose and clearly foreshadowed my career as a newspaper columnist.
My heart and soul went into that letter. It was a good year for me, as evidenced by the bounty that awaited me under the tree. But in that letter, I also fully admitted to having some naughty moments.
That part is missing from the Amazon option. We miss the opportunity to self-reflect. We only get to select some items that Amazon carries — bonus for givers if you pick an Amazon Prime item.
For many, self-reflection is an important component to our end-of-year holiday celebrations. We look back to count our blessings, to thank others for their support and to show love and generosity in return.
I might be a little late in telling you this. You’ve probably already picked out presents for my kids.
Just know that next year we’ll try a little harder.
Rather than just list all the stuff we want in the letters (or email) we write to you, we’ll take time for a little introspection.
P.S. Yes, I know you call me "Little" Adam, and I'm okay with that. Just remember that I'm now 6-foot-8, 320-pounds if you're plan to wrap a Pittsburgh Steelers hoodie for me.
This column first appeared in the December 15, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
I think I have polar bear blood.
During most winter days, I feel slightly less comfortable indoors than out.
This is probably because of the “malfunctioning” thermostat that slowly increases our home’s temperature throughout the day. I can only assume it’s broken because no one ever admits to changing it.
This is also because the cold weather suits me, as do most winter activities. Short winter hikes, sledding and snowball fights, and yes, even shoveling snow are fun for me. It’s good exercise for polar bears.
I also enjoy winter travel, driving to see family and friends.
Obviously this last activity is a little tricky for a few reasons.
In the early part of winter driving season, it takes time for some of us to remember how to navigate snow-covered roads. Our road conditions in northeast Ohio are, at times, treacherous.
Even with great road crews—and we have some of the best in the world—it’s tough for any plow or salt truck to stay ahead of rapidly changing weather conditions.
But have no fear. For those of us who accept the challenges of winter driving, there’s good news from the social media front.
Long time readers may recall my love affair with the social GPS app, Waze. Anyone who listens to me prattle on about driving directions and conditions know that using this app is the only way I can travel.
Without it, I would be literally and figuratively lost.
Waze is constantly upping its game, adding new features and providing real-time updates about road conditions around the world. Well, most of the world—more than 185 countries—even a few with real polar bears.
A new feature released this week makes driving a lot easier for Waze users.
We can now see up-to-the-second snow warnings for roads that crews haven’t reached, and instant reports from other users that help Waze reroute us to better road and weather conditions.
Waze boasts a great user-friendly interface.
If you’re already familiar with the app, look for this new feature by selecting the “Report” icon, then “Hazard,” then “Weather.” Under the weather hazard, you’ll see options for fog, hail, flood, ice on road, and unplowed road.
Of course, Waze is best known for community-fed features that include warnings about speed traps and red light cameras, and ever-changing road and traffic conditions like accidents and construction.
It’s best to use Waze by entering your destination first. Let the app know where you’re headed so that it knows how to reroute you if the road ahead looks a little dicey.
The social GPS was built around the same platform used for Google Maps (Google also owns Waze), so chances are, Waze will work in most locations with good network access.
Waze worked the Virginia Department of Transportation to build in this new feature. The hope is that these reports will assist road crews, like ODOT and local agencies and municipalities, more quickly address the roads that need the greatest attention.
It might also give first responders an added tool for reaching those in need just a bit faster.
Polar bears and other winter drivers can download Waze from the Google Play or Apple’s App Store. It’s free and has minimal in-app advertisements.
This column first appeared in the December 8, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
I have an eclectic list of parenting specialists. They’re really good at a job that’s incredibly and increasingly difficult. They care about their kids. They resolve daily conflicts, run to-do lists like efficiency experts, all while maintaining some sanity.
Some are family members, or parents of best friends. More recently, I’ve found some parenting models among my neighbors.
Case in point: Kristen Rock. We’re community neighbors. We have friends-in-common. We see each other at parties. Our families are nearly identical in terms of wedding dates, number of children, and ages.
We’re also Facebook friends of course.
When it comes to parenting, Kristen is my new “Saint.”
Okay, even Kristen would consider the word Saint an over-exaggeration, but she certainly ranks up there with parents who’ve tried a radical parenting strategy and lived to tell about it.
Her recent strategy: cutting the family’s internet and cable service, seemingly overnight and without warning.
First, Kristen will tell you it’s not as easy to just cancel these services. Beyond the hour-long phone call with Spectrum customer service, there was concern about how her kids would react.
After all, this was not meant to be some Draconian move to punish her kids for playing Fortnite too much, or watching inappropriate programs on YouTube.
It was about gaining control. It was about reconnecting as a family, even if it meant disconnecting from some technology (we’ll get back to the “some” part in a moment).
“Screen time was in conflict with our idealistic family priorities,” Kristen said. “For our family, we want our kids to be reading every day. We want them practicing, to be playing outside.”
“The things we needed as a family were in total conflict because of screens.”
Kristen shared with me the pros and cons with cutting the cords—a list she made with Jason the night before.
It’s also important to note that they kept “some” access. Mom and Dad kept smartphone data plans, and activated hot spots when necessary.
One big pro: cost savings.
“We went 80 days without (cable and internet). I looked at our bill. It’s $250-a-month. That’s $3 thousand-a-year.”
She estimated they cut screen time by 50-percent. Basic channels were a mainstay for family viewing, with the occasional DVD from a library for movie nights.
“When the kids came home from school, it was Family Feud or Ellen.” When commercials were added to the mix, “the pace was kind of relaxing,” she added.
Another pro: boredom. “Without (technology), the kids got a little bit bored. That was good. I want my kids to be bored sometimes because it forces them to look for other things to do.”
The kids started reading for pleasure, but it was also good for the adults, too. “I couldn’t watch the news at 10:30 at night, which was really refreshing.”
Some cons: limited access to sports content, no Google Home access, added stress on smartphones, and difficulty with planning travel.
“We also had to rethink our family movie night,” she added. “We had to get a little creative.”
Would they do it again?
Kristen said the pros definitely outweighed the cons. In fact, the Rocks are already thinking ahead to the next 80 days they’ll take a break from internet and cable.
This column first appeared in the December 1, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
The reasons people give for using social media often leave us scratching our heads.
In research, we refer to these “reasons” as motives. Seemingly endless lists of motives fill our academic journals. Reasons we say we use social media run the gamut from sharing updates and maintaining relationship to passing time and, well, pure apathy.
Before you ask, “how can apathy be a motivation,” consider the times you’ve used social media out of sheer boredom. When there’s nothing better to do, we light up our smartphones, and scroll and click away.
I sat in a doctor’s office for an hour a few weeks ago. If not for a smartphone, I may have been slightly more agitated by the delay. I’m not ashamed to say that passing time look over social media feeds served as a sort of pacifier.
Some respondents tell us they use social media out of habit. It’s a ritual. It’s the first thing they do in the morning, or maybe the last thing they see before going to sleep. It’s part of a daily routine.
Some claim that it’s a good habit to have because there’s a purpose to the activity. In other words, they go on social media because they have business to do, they know what apps they need to use, and they’re efficient (i.e., they get done what needs to be done in a short amount of time).
Some look at motives through the lens of a specific platform like Facebook or Twitter.
In a recent issue of the Journal of Social Media in Society, researchers Pavica Sheldon and Megan Newman explored the reasons why teens use Instagram.
Among the reasons, usual suspects like social interaction, self-promotion, and creativity emerged as leading motives why teens reported using the photo-sharing site. Regardless of age, these seem like reasons most of us would use Instagram.
But these teens also reported an excessive “reassurance-seeking” motive.
This motive included items like, “I often ask other people if they think that my clothes looks OK,” “I often ask people if I look attractive,” and “I often ask people if other people like me.”
When we read these statements, it’s probably easy to think of some adult friends who use it for the same reasons (even if they won’t admit it).
All reasons pale in comparison to the king of all motives: maintaining relationships. This is by far the most popular reason people give for using social media, and it makes nearly every list of every study.
But even that motive is bit little tricky. This is because we’re not entirely sure how respondents define the words “maintain” and “relationships.”
We might define those words differently depending on who we are (age, gender, life status, etc). For example, are we really maintaining relationships with people we haven’t see in 20 or 30 years simply because we occasionally like each other’s posts?
Maybe, but we’re certainly not cultivating the relationship. It doesn’t make the reason less valid, just a bit confusing when we lump those relationships in with close friends and family members.
Do you have different reasons for using social media than what’s listed here? Please share them with me and we’ll explore a few in future columns.
This column first appeared in the November 24, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
YouTube and Google were fined a record $170 million in September for violating an online child privacy law.
The ripple effects of that settlement now are hitting YouTube users, especially content creators who’ve turned their popular channels into thriving online businesses.
According to the FTC, YouTube channels collected personal information from children without parental consent. That’s a big no-no in online privacy.
Many of these children are the “fans” or viewers of YouTube channels. Apparently, kids were giving up personal data without them or their parents knowing it.
At question are the rules outlined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
COPPA requires online services with child-specific content to get permission from the parents before collecting information from users under 13.
YouTube allegedly used identifying information (i.e., cookies) to track the browsing habits of children. Of course, many sites do this to target us with specific ads.
“YouTube touted its popularity with children to prospective corporate clients,” said FTC Chairman Joe Simons. “Yet when it came to complying with COPPA, the company refused to acknowledge that portions of its platform were clearly directed to kids. There’s no excuse for YouTube’s violations of the law.”
This doesn’t bode well for the thousands of content creators who’ve turned the art of creating children’s content into successful businesses. This is because there’s more to the YouTube settlement than just a hefty fine.
YouTube is also required to implement a system that requires channel owners to label their content as “child-directed.” This part has always sort of existed on YouTube.
This is meant to ensure that YouTube is complying with COPPA.
More recently, and why this causing grief for some content creators, YouTube is notifying channel owners that their content is subject to COPPA. This means either some or all videos could be removed.
YouTube also is required to provide COPPA rules training for employees about how they deal with YouTube channel owners.
To better explain the new rules, YouTube posted a video of its own on Nov. 12, and circulated it to all creators. It features “Lauren” who describes changes to the upload process, videos and monetization — how channel owners make money from their videos.
The biggest complaint from channel owners centers on that last part — monetization. Changes to content policies for children will lead to losses in revenue, not only for child-directed content creators, but for YouTube as well.
How much of a loss is uncertain, but it’s likely to pale in comparison to YouTube and Google’s $170 million fine.
Another complaint: there are too many unknowns in YouTube’s new rules. For example, what constitutes child-directed content? If content creators make videos for people over the age of 13, but kids are watching them, who decides if something is “child-directed?”
This means fewer viral videos. Access to comments will be gone, as will end screens where creators promote other videos and sell merchandise. Watchlists, stories and notification bells will disappear.
How much revenue will be lost for content creators is uncertain.
What seems certain is that we will see far fewer videos for children on YouTube in coming months.
This column first appeared in the October 13, 2019 PRINT edition of The Vindicator:
Happily married for nearly 20 years, my wife and I still have the “occasional” disagreement.
She calls them arguments. I call them debates (which infuriates her just a bit more).
Lately, our debates have focused on what really happened when we dated in college. We agree on how we met. Other events are blurry, a discombobulated list of dates, times, locations and “he said, she said."
After all the misremembered recollections, we always end in agreement about one specific thing. It’s one reason why we’re happily married: we would be terrible in today’s dating scene. Of course, I silently disagree that she would have any trouble finding dates. My wife is smart and funny and pretty. There’d almost certainly be a long line of suitors at her door.
However, the fact that I even used the word “suitors” in the previous sentence suggests I might be getting a little too long in the tooth to survive today’s dating scene.
This is because most of the people we know who are single have turned almost exclusively to online dating to find their matches.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve talked to people actively using dating apps.
“We met online,” a newly married couple said, in unison, both smiling.
Ahhh... young love.
“Well, I like to say ‘we matched online’,” the wife clarified. “Living in a different city from where I grew up, it was too hard to meet new people,” she added. “I didn’t have time to figure out if my the love of my life was hanging out at a gym or a park or some random street corner.”
They turned to Match.com to find each other. But from what I gathered from these discussions, the platforms we choose to find our matches matters very little.
eHarmony. Bumble. POF (a.k.a. Plenty of Fish). OkCupid. Hinge. I was introduced to new apps like Coffee Meets Bagel and The League. The list of dating apps seems endless. It’s easy to understand why entering the dating scene seems such a daunting task.
This is the new norm.
Just last month, after teasing it for more than a year, Facebook entered the dating business with a new feature simply titled Facebook Dating.
Even Tinder has found a new home among reputable dating apps. Once lauded as the “hook-up” or “booty call” app, many are turning to Tinder to find long-term love.
“(Tinder) was the first app I used when my last partner and I split,” a single woman told me. “It looks a little superficial on the surface, but you can really find lasting relationships on (Tinder) too.”
Subscription fees are a big turn off for some.
“I’m not a big fan of paying for (dating apps),” a new college graduate said. “If I can try them for free, I’ll likely use that app first over others that charge up front.”
When asked for what advice they would give to those who are new to online dating, most focused on keeping the options open. By “options,” they meant dating apps, not those we might choose to “date.”
“Don’t limit yourself to one (app),” the new college graduate added. “You never know if your match is over there on Tinder while you’re spinning your wheels on another app.”
This column first appeared in the October 6, 2019 edition of The Vindicator:
According to a new study, Americans have serious trust issues.
Whether it’s government or social media, it’s now customary to treat everything we read and hear with skepticism. We’re also increasingly pessimistic about the ability of social media to deliver credible news.
There are solutions to these trust issues, but before we put faith in social media again, we need to understand the root of our suspicions.
First, most of us don’t know how to fix the social-media-news credibility-delivery problem.
A report from the Pew Research Center published last week found that most Americans were unsure how social media could improve the quality of news delivered on our feeds.
Facebook and other platforms have been grappling with the “quality” issue since long before November 2016. We just needed a big event like a Presidential election to expose the problems with using social media to get all of our news.
It’s also no surprise that we’re a bit cynical about the recent efforts of Facebook and others to deliver news from unbiased sources...
Read the rest of this column in The Vindicator at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2019/10/always-be-suspicious-of-social-media-news/
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.