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.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in 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 on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.