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.
(part one of two)
There’s a fine line between cyberbullying and play. My kids recently learned this lesson, and thankfully, in a safe environment.
The environment? Roblox.
Our fearless 8 year-old loves to play Roblox.
Never heard of Roblox? It’s a huge online sandbox for game creation. We call it a “massively multiplayer online game,” or MMOG. Players can create their own games or play games created by others.
There are millions of games on the platform.
Roblox regularly appears among the top downloaded, most played games for kids and teens. It’s billed as a site where virtual explorers come to create adventures, play games, role play and learn with friends in a family-friendly, immersive, 3D environment.
To the casual observer (i.e., parents) it looks like a giant world filled with Lego blocks. Roblox is similar to other world-building games like Minecraft – but as my kids will tell you “it’s not the same at all” (emphasis on the “at all”).
For my 8 year-old and the 70-million-a-month players who access the platform, Roblox world-upon-world, seemingly infinite space for creativity and play.
As MMOGs go, Robolox is a fairly safe platform for kids, until the occasional deviant player waltzes through to ruin someone’s day.
I suppose this is true of most MMOGs – Fortnite, Overwatch – and other online games. Just like social media and message boards, there’s always the possibility of a troll lurking in the background hell bent on disrupting other players, even 8-year-old little girls.
And this was certainly true of Roblox last week when “Tam07” harassed my daughter to the point of tears.
Okay, harassed may be a bit overdramatic, as was my daughter’s reaction.
Still, my oldest daughters looked on and immediately labeled Tam07 as a bully. “That player is cyberbullying her, Dad,” they exclaimed. “Do something!”
I did not do something. In fact, I did nothing.
I don’t even like to use the term cyberbully in these cases because, truth be told, it’s a game-someone wins, someone has to lose. Better she learn that fact now that later in life.
This is not to suggest that bullying doesn’t happen on Roblox. It does. This was different. This was game play.
She wasn’t being bullied. She was losing to a player who was for more advanced, and probably a lot older.
What happened next is when and where the real teaching took place. Before I could blink, her older sisters swooped in, grabbed the keyboard, and reported Tam07 for bullying.
“That’s not bullying,” I told them, as they sat, albeit reluctantly, for another Dad Tech Talk. “I may not know how to play Roblox, but I know cyberbullying when I see it. That’s not it.”
In next week’s column, I’ll share with you the advice I gave my kids for identifying and reporting a cyberbully when they see one.
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.
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.