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/
This column first appeared in the September 29, 2019 edition of The Vindicator:
Promoters of a plan to raid Area 51 in Nevada must be scratching their heads today.
Their plan was to get millions of people to show up at the military base, storm the gates, and uncover the truth about hidden alien technology.
More than 2 million people checked the “going” box on the “Raid Area 51” social media event page.
Imagine that number: more than 2 million people. According to a 2017 U.S. Defense Department report, that’s roughly the same size as our active and reserve military forces.
On the day of the scheduled Area 51 raid, however, only a few dozen people actually showed up at the gate.
So, what went wrong? What happened to the other millions of people who said they’d show up? Could it be they were abducted by — wait for it — oh, never mind.
The “truth” is, like most things we try to plan and promote on social media, it’s easy to slap some information and a picture or video on an event page. It’s not as easy to get people to actually show up for the event, even if they tell us they’re “going...”
Read the rest of this column in The Vindicator at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2019/09/facebook-events-dont-mean-much/
This column first appeared in the September 22, 2019 edition of The Vindicator:
We like when people “like” our posts on social media. For others, however, the “likes” their posts receive, or more specifically don’t receive, could lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Apparently, Facebook wants to help alleviate those feelings.
In what appears to be a response to studies linking social media use with mental health issues, Facebook is testing a small but significant platform change that would hide like counts from some users.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “like counts,” it simply refers to the number next to the thumbs-up, heart and other reaction icons that appear under Facebook posts. Click on the like count of a public post and you’ll find a breakdown of the six reaction types: like, love, haha, wow, sad and angry. The more our friends “like” something — that is, the more they react to our content with one of those icons — the more our like counts increase.
Jane Manchun Wong, a software engineer who researches yet-to-be-released features on major social media platforms, uncovered evidence of Facebook’s test this summer...
Read the rest of this column in The Vindicator at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2019/09/facebook-post-like-counts-could-vanish/
This column first appeared in the September 15, 2019 edition of The Tribune-Chronicle:
I had a good side hustle for the last few months.
What’s a “side hustle” you ask?
My hustle was mentoring writers online. I received papers, suggested edits, and sent them back for students to revise and submit for a grade. It was easy work for not a lot of pay, but it helped enhance our summer vacation savings.
Think of it as extra work, but not a part-time job.
As a teenager, my side hustles were mowing lawns and shoveling sidewalk snow around the neighborhood, but my part-time job was flipping burgers at the local Burger King. The part-time job is better understood as employment that requires clocking normal hours with hourly pay and some benefits.
If you have a full-time job, the side hustle is merely supplemental income. Maybe you’re trying to make ends meet. Maybe you’re saving for a new TV. Maybe it’s for your subscription to a favorite local newspaper (wink, wink). Maybe you just like the extra work...
Read the rest of this column in The Tribune-Chronicle at https://www.tribtoday.com/life/lifecovers/2019/09/best-apps-to-use-for-your-side-hustle-or-gigs/
This column first appeared in the September 8, 2019 edition of The Vindicator:
The new school year brings opportunities for our kids to make new friends and reconnect with besties after a long summer break.
With daughters in middle and high school, I get to watch them deftly navigate these relationships with the help of technology. They’re kind to their friends, and they communicate responsibly with their buddies on social media and in texts (even if they never return mine).
In some ways, I feel like I’ve taught them well. They’re a little awkward and shy, but they’re fiercely loyal to their friends. They’re also fairly responsible with tech.
Now is not the time to be complacent. Even if the house is empty for the first time in months, this is no time to sit back and relax.
It’s the best time to be on guard...
Read the rest of this column in The Vindicator at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2019/09/check-your-kids-protecht-list/
This column first appeared in the September 1, 2019 edition of The Vindicator:
Something strange happened on Facebook. Don’t worry if you missed it. After all, strange things happen on Facebook all the time.
In my time monitoring Facebook, I’ve seen the breadth and depth of strangeness. You can participate in debates as to why Alaska is not one of the 50 states, or why Puerto Rico should be. You can watch fast-paced how-to videos for packing clothes into small suitcases or making elaborate vegetable sculptures. I’ve learned you can buy one dress shoe in Facebook’s Marketplace, a men’s size 10-and-a-half for your left foot. Of course, this is probably not strange for all the folks who do not need two same-sized shoes.
Part of the appeal of Facebook is that all this strangeness is perfectly curated and available whenever I want it...
Read the rest of this column in The Vindicator at https://www.vindy.com/life/lifestyles/2019/08/facebook-makes-strange-change-to-home-slogan/
We’ve used this column once a week for the last five years to look at how technology can enhance and, at times, hinder our relationships. We’ve explored the role of social media in our lives.
Five years seems like a small, inconsequential amount of time for anything. It’s a blip on the radar of The Vindicator’s impressive 150-year run. It’s a fraction of the history enjoyed by the first American television programs that aired over 90 years ago.
At my age, five years goes by in the blink of an eye.
But five years is big in terms of the scope of the current slate of social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are teenagers today. Instagram is a 9-year-old. Snapchat is an infant.
We’ve been at this for half-a-decade, and in that time, we’ve covered a lot of ground, trying to stay ahead of this fast-paced, ever-changing world of social media.
Along the way, we looked at tips and tricks for getting the most out of our favorite platforms. We took deeper dives into protecting our privacy and security. We studied the landscape to look for promising new social media to make us feel better connected.
After five years, are we better or worse at this?
Probably both. We’re better because, as research suggests, we feel more connected to our world, our friends and family, and our communities. People often cite social media as the reason why they feel more connected.
We might also be a bit worse because, over the last few years, we’ve come to grips with real privacy and security concerns that have simmered under the surface of social media since the start. How Facebook and others (and us) have handled these issues is as telling as our continued use of their services.
In other words, we still have work do. Of course, we can’t control the actions of social media companies, but we can control our own.
In one of my first columns, I offered some basic tips for adjusting our behaviors, for using social media in ways that were meant to encourage online prosocial behaviors:
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.