Social Media

What It Felt Like When “Cat Person” Went Viral

11 January 2019

From The New Yorker:

In the fall of 2017, I was finishing up lunch at a Noodles & Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I saw that I’d missed a call from a 212 area code. I thought, I bet my story just got into The New Yorker. This was an unusual assumption for me to make, given that, at that point, I’d had a single story accepted in a print literary magazine; the rest of my published work was available only in online genre venues, like Body Parts Magazine and Weird Fiction Review. The story I’d submitted to The New Yorker had already been rejected, politely, by every other publication I’d sent it to, but, a few weeks earlier, my agent had received an e-mail from Deborah Treisman, The New Yorker’s fiction editor, which read, in its entirety:

Hi Jenni,

I just want to apologize for holding onto this one for so long. It’s an intriguing piece and I have it circulating here now, so should be able to get back to you in the next week or two.

Sorry to keep you waiting,

Deborah

If you are not in the habit of submitting short stories to literary magazines, this might not seem like such a big deal to you, but, when I learned that the fiction editor of The New Yorker knew my name, I was so thrilled that I forwarded the e-mail to my mother.

. . . .

On Monday, December 4th, my story “Cat Person” came out in the magazine and online. I posted the link on my Facebook page, at which point nearly everyone I’d ever met either liked it or sent me a message saying “congratulations,” and I responded “thank you!!!” Then a bunch of my friends took me out for drinks at a local cocktail bar and, after that, it was pretty much over.

Except that it wasn’t. Three days later, I was sitting in a coffee shop with my girlfriend, Callie, trying to write, when she looked up from her computer and said, “There’s something going on with your story.” Callie is also a writer, and she used to work in publishing, so she was much more connected to the literary Internet than I was. She seemed slightly unnerved. “It’s just Twitter,” I said, with the smug dismissiveness of a thirtysomething late millennial who had tweeted a grand total of twelve times in her life. Callie tried to explain what was happening; I failed to understand. Then I went home, fired up Twitter, and saw that I had a bunch of notifications from strangers. I was reading through them when my mom called about something unrelated. I tried to explain to her what was happening, and then she went online herself and, at some point, she said, “Oh, my God, Kristen, someone Barack Obama follows just retweeted your story.” Then she burst into tears.

In brief, “Cat Person” is a story about two characters—Margot, a twenty-year-old college student, and Robert, a man in his mid-thirties—who go on a single bad date. The story is told in the close third person, and much of it is spent describing Margot’s thought process as she realizes that she does not want to have sex with Robert but then decides, for a variety of reasons, to go through with it anyway. When the story appeared online, young women began sharing it among themselves; they said it captured something that they had also experienced: the sense that there is a point at which it is “too late” to say no to a sexual encounter. They also talked, more broadly, about the phenomenon of unwanted sex that came about not through the use of physical force but because of a poisoned cocktail of emotions and cultural expectations—embarrassment, pride, self-consciousness, and fear. What had started as a conversation among women was then taken up and folded into a much larger debate that played out, for the most part, between men and women, its flames fanned by the Internet controversy machine.

. . . .

I remember the e-mails coming and coming—first, fan letters from people who’d discovered my story and liked it, then anti-fan letters, from people who’d discovered my story and didn’t. I received many in-depth descriptions, from men, of sexual encounters they’d had, because they thought I’d “just like to know.” I got e-mails from people I hadn’t talked to in years who wondered if I’d noticed that my story had gone viral.

. . . .

I’d wanted people to be able to see themselves in the story, to identify with it in such a way that its narrative scaffolding would disappear. But, perhaps inevitably, as the story was shared again and again, moving it further and further from its original context, people began conflating me, the author, with the main character. Sometimes this was blunt (“What, The New Yorker is just publishing diary entries now?”) and other times it was subtler: the assumption was that I’d be happy to go on the radio and explain why young women in 2018 were still struggling to achieve satisfying sex lives—in other words, the assumption was that my own position and history would be identical to Margot’s. I was thirty-six years old and a few months into my first serious relationship with a woman, and now everyone wanted me to explain why twenty-year-old girls were having bad sex with men.

. . . .

So what was it like to have a story go viral? For a few hours, before I came to my senses and shut down my computer, I got to live the dream and the nightmare of knowing exactly what people thought when they read what I’d written, as well as what they thought about me. A torrent of unvarnished, unpolished opinion was delivered directly to my eyes and my brain.

. . . .

I want people to read my stories—of course I do. That’s why I write them. But knowing, in that immediate and unmediated way, what people thought about my writing felt . . . the word I keep reaching for, even though it seems melodramatic, is annihilating. To be faced with all those people thinking and talking about me was like standing alone, at the center of a stadium, while thousands of people screamed at me at the top of their lungs. Not for me, at me. I guess some people might find this exhilarating. I did not.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker and here’s a link to Cat Person.

Amazon will win advertising dollars away from Facebook amid privacy concerns

10 January 2019

From re/code:

Amazon could double its ad revenue among top US ad buyers in the next two years, giving it 12 percent of total ad spending in 2020. Meanwhile, Facebook’s main social network platform is expected to lose 3 percentage points of market share in that time.

That’s according to a new Cowen survey of 50 senior US advertising buyers in late December that showed Amazon is expected to gain more digital ad market share by 2020 than any other platform.

These ad buyers controlled a total of $14 billion in digital ad budgets in 2018. The investment bank weighted the data so that bigger spenders factored in accordingly.

Ad buyers are mostly pulling their growing Amazon spend from other digital platforms, the survey found.

Google and YouTube are also expected to lose a modest amount of ad revenue share through 2020. Facebook-owned Instagram is expected to see a 2 percentage point increase in that time, helping to balance out its parent company’s loss.

. . . .

Facebook is particularly vulnerable, thanks to its recent spate of privacy issues.

Of the 50 ad buyers, 18 percent said privacy concerns would lead to decreased ad spend on Facebook, more than any other platform, according to the Cowen survey.

But it’s also likely Facebook’s stagnating daily active user growth in the US and Canada— its most valuable markets — is at least as big a factor as its myriad privacy mishaps.

Link to the rest at re/code

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

4 January 2019

From New York magazine:

In late November, the Justice Department unsealed indictments against eight people accused of fleecing advertisers of $36 million in two of the largest digital ad-fraud operations ever uncovered. Digital advertisers tend to want two things: people to look at their ads and “premium” websites — i.e., established and legitimate publications — on which to host them.

The two schemes at issue in the case, dubbed Methbot and 3ve by the security researchers who found them, faked both. Hucksters infected 1.7 million computers with malware that remotely directed traffic to “spoofed” websites — “empty websites designed for bot traffic” that served up a video ad purchased from one of the internet’s vast programmatic ad-exchanges, but that were designed, according to the indictments, “to fool advertisers into thinking that an impression of their ad was served on a premium publisher site,” like that of Vogue or The Economist. Views, meanwhile, were faked by malware-infected computers with marvelously sophisticated techniques to imitate humans: bots “faked clicks, mouse movements, and social network login information to masquerade as engaged human consumers.” Some were sent to browse the internet to gather tracking cookies from other websites, just as a human visitor would have done through regular behavior. Fake people with fake cookies and fake social-media accounts, fake-moving their fake cursors, fake-clicking on fake websites — the fraudsters had essentially created a simulacrum of the internet, where the only real things were the ads.

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

. . . .

Take something as seemingly simple as how we measure web traffic. Metrics should be the most real thing on the internet: They are countable, trackable, and verifiable, and their existence undergirds the advertising business that drives our biggest social and search platforms. Yet not even Facebook, the world’s greatest data–gathering organization, seems able to produce genuine figures. In October, small advertisers filed suit against the social-media giant, accusing it of covering up, for a year, its significant overstatements of the time users spent watching videos on the platform (by 60 to 80 percent, Facebook says; by 150 to 900 percent, the plaintiffs say). According to an exhaustive list at MarketingLand, over the past two years Facebook has admitted to misreporting the reach of posts on Facebook Pages (in two different ways), the rate at which viewers complete ad videos, the average time spent reading its “Instant Articles,” the amount of referral traffic from Facebook to external websites, the number of views that videos received via Facebook’s mobile site, and the number of video views in Instant Articles.

Can we still trust the metrics? After the Inversion, what’s the point? Even when we put our faith in their accuracy, there’s something not quite real about them: My favorite statistic this year was Facebook’s claim that 75 million people watched at least a minute of Facebook Watch videos every day — though, as Facebook admitted, the 60 seconds in that one minute didn’t need to be watched consecutively. Real videos, real people, fake minutes.

. . . .

And maybe we shouldn’t even assume that the people are real. Over at YouTube, the business of buying and selling video views is “flourishing,” as the Times reminded readers with a lengthy investigation in August. The company says only “a tiny fraction” of its traffic is fake, but fake subscribers are enough of a problem that the site undertook a purge of “spam accounts” in mid-December. These days, the Times found, you can buy 5,000 YouTube views — 30 seconds of a video counts as a view — for as low as $15; oftentimes, customers are led to believe that the views they purchase come from real people. More likely, they come from bots.

. . . .

Link to the rest at New York magazine

Why it’s time to cancel your Amazon Prime account

27 November 2018

From Fast Company:

Yesterday was Cyber Monday and already Amazon has revealed many flowery statistics about all the ways it earned tens of millions of dollars in a matter of hours. Amazon does this every year–it’s how it reaffirms to the world its dominance. But in the background something else is afoot, and it’s been slowly gaining traction: a backlash.

Yesterday, on Vox’The Goods, writer Rebecca Jennings wrote about the slow and steady movement of people and organizations realizing that Amazon may actually be bad.

“Having covered Black Friday for the past few years, I’m used to the infinite roundups of Amazon’s best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals–which, to be sure, won’t be going anywhere as long as publishers are able to monetize them,” she wrote. “But what I hadn’t seen as much before this year were media companies openly discouraging readers from shopping at Amazon.” Two examples she brings up are The Ringer and Gizmodo–both of which wrote pieces this year dissuading its readers from using the e-commerce platform.

. . . .

Similarly, individuals have joined the call too. Jennings points to numerous tweets–most of whom come from the loud but incestuous media twitter circle–of popular accounts imploring their followers to break ties with the company. (A search of Google Trends for the search query “cancel Amazon Prime” shows a spike last December, followed by a steady decline.) Other smaller creators have also tried to foster positive reinforcement in name of canceling Amazon Prime; online ceramicist and writer Marian Bull (who’s also, full disclosure, a friend of mine), held a brief sale on her Instagram imploring followers to part ways with the Amazon beast.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG suggests there are eight million stories in the naked internet. This has been one of them.

PG further suggests there are millions and millions and millions of tweets in the naked Twitter. If you spend five minutes searching, you can find a “Twitter trend” for any topic that might interest you and 15 of your followers.

Twitter makes it possible for online journalists to identify emerging trends and write their stories without actually interacting with any living person who does not exhibit symptoms consistent with a high likelihood of galloping bonkerhood. (See Geographical Distribution of Insanity in America: Evidence for an Urban Factor, which PG suggests could be updated to “Geographical Distribution of Insanity in America: Evidence for a Twitter Factor”)

Having just conducted 20 seconds of Twitter research, PG can announce the following:

  1. People on Twitter like to joke about how spending so much time there has given us all brain damage. Being online, or worse, Very Online, can often feel indistinguishable from descending into madness. Our brains simply cannot have been designed to withstand such a constant onslaught of conflicting information at once.
  2. Research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, found that Twitter users with ADHD tended to tweet differently than those without ADHD, in a variety of ways: They were found to be less agreeable, to post more often and openly, and to swear more often than Twitter users who didn’t have ADHD, according to the research.
  3. Forecasting the onset and course of mental illness with Twitter data. Researchers developed computational models to predict the emergence of depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Twitter users. . . . State-space temporal analysis suggests that onset of depression may be detectable from Twitter data several months prior to diagnosis. . . . A state-space time series model revealed indicators of PTSD almost immediately post-trauma, often many months prior to clinical diagnosis. These methods suggest a data-driven, predictive approach for early screening and detection of mental illness.

UPDATE: Per Meryl’s request, the Piffle video makes an appearance here.

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I’ve decided to start giving a damn again

17 November 2018
Comments Off on I’ve decided to start giving a damn again

From The Digital Reader

I’ve never been one to mark the anniversary of this blog. I started it in January 2010 on the spur of the moment, and generally maintained that attitude of “hey, now that’s a cool idea – let’s do it”. This tended to get in the way planning things like anniversary celebrations (and back when I attended CES in the first week of January every year I didn’t really have the energy for a celebration, anyway).

But as I sit here today, it is two months and eight days until this blog’s ninth anniversary, and I have decided I am going to do something different.

This time around I am going to celebrate the anniversary of the blog, and also its relaunch.

I don’t know if you noticed, but for the past year and a half or so I have regarded this blog as a failed project. I looked at the falling weekly traffic reports, and counted the ever-declining number of comments, and grew depressed about the inevitability of site traffic eventually dwindling away to nothing. This belief came to be reflected in the care (or rather, the lack of care) I was putting into things like proofing blog posts. (After all, why bother investing in something that is going to die anyway?)

. . . .

I now see this blog as being the metaphorical glass half-full rather than half-empty. (As I said, I have started to give a damn about the blog again.)

So, the anniversary.

I’m going to spend the next couple months thinking about what should be done with this blog. I’m also going to be thinking of how I can thank readers, commenters, and contributors, including those who have been here since the beginning and those who read the blog now.

To put it another way, I have started to give a damn about the blog again.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG is not certain whether he first picked up on The Digital Reader when Nate first started it or not.

Regardless, PG has appreciated Nate’s ongoing efforts and found a lot of good information at TDR.

If you follow the link, Nate is asking for ideas on how he should improve the blog.

Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis

16 November 2018

From The New York Times:

Sheryl Sandberg was seething.

Inside Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters, top executives gathered in the glass-walled conference room of its founder, Mark Zuckerberg. It was September 2017, more than a year after Facebook engineers discovered suspicious Russia-linked activity on its site, an early warning of the Kremlin campaign to disrupt the 2016 American election. Congressional and federal investigators were closing in on evidence that would implicate the company.

But it wasn’t the looming disaster at Facebook that angered Ms. Sandberg. It was the social network’s security chief, Alex Stamos, who had informed company board members the day before that Facebook had yet to contain the Russian infestation. Mr. Stamos’s briefing had prompted a humiliating boardroom interrogation of Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, and her billionaire boss. She appeared to regard the admission as a betrayal.

“You threw us under the bus!” she yelled at Mr. Stamos, according to people who were present.

The clash that day would set off a reckoning — for Mr. Zuckerberg, for Ms. Sandberg and for the business they had built together. In just over a decade, Facebook has connected more than 2.2 billion people, a global nation unto itself that reshaped political campaigns, the advertising business and daily life around the world. Along the way, Facebook accumulated one of the largest-ever repositories of personal data, a treasure trove of photos, messages and likes that propelled the company into the Fortune 500.

. . . .

But as evidence accumulated that Facebook’s power could also be exploited to disrupt elections, broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly campaigns of hate around the globe, Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg stumbled. Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

. . . .

But as Facebook grew, so did the hate speech, bullying and other toxic content on the platform. When researchers and activists in Myanmar, India, Germany and elsewhere warned that Facebook had become an instrument of government propaganda and ethnic cleansing, the company largely ignored them. Facebook had positioned itself as a platform, not a publisher. Taking responsibility for what users posted, or acting to censor it, was expensive and complicated. Many Facebook executives worried that any such efforts would backfire.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Twitter is thinking about an edit button to fix typos in tweets

12 November 2018

From TNW:

For the first time since the end of 2016, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey shed some light on the company’s thoughts about building an edit button for tweets. Speaking at an event in India’s capital of New Delhi, he said that the company has to carefully consider use cases for the edit button before making it a reality – and it could potentially be tooled to help fix typos.

“You have to pay attention to what are the use cases for the edit button. A lot of people want the edit button because they want to quickly fix a mistake they made. Like a misspelling or tweeting the wrong URL. That’s a lot more achievable than allowing people to edit any tweet all the way back in time,” Dorsey said.

. . . .

He added that Twitter will ideally prevent unlimited editing, because then anyone could abuse the feature to alter their controversial or damning statements later on. Dorsey noted that the company wants to implement a solution that solves a problem and removes what “people see as friction in the service.”

Link to the rest at TNW

The Autocracy App

10 October 2018

From The New York Review of Books:

Facebook is a company that has lost control—not of its business, which has suffered remarkably little from its series of unfortunate events since the 2016 election, but of its consequences. Its old slogan, “Move fast and break things,” was changed a few years ago to the less memorable “Move fast with stable infra.” Around the world, however, Facebook continues to break many things indeed.

In Myanmar, hatred whipped up on Facebook Messenger has driven ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. In India, false child abduction rumors on Facebook’s WhatsApp service have incited mobs to lynch innocent victims. In the Philippines, Turkey, and other receding democracies, gangs of “patriotic trolls” use Facebook to spread disinformation and terrorize opponents. And in the United States, the platform’s advertising tools remain conduits for subterranean propaganda.

Mark Zuckerberg now spends much of his time apologizing for data breaches, privacy violations, and the manipulation of Facebook users by Russian spies. This is not how it was supposed to be. A decade ago, Zuckerberg and the company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, championed Facebook as an agent of free expression, protest, and positive political change. To drive progress, Zuckerberg always argued, societies would have to get over their hang-ups about privacy, which he described as a dated concept and no longer the social norm. “If people share more, the world will become more open and connected,” he wrote in a 2010 Washington Post Op-Ed. This view served Facebook’s business model, which is based on users passively delivering personal data. That data is used to target advertising to them based on their interests, habits, and so forth. To increase its revenue, more than 98 percent of which comes from advertising, Facebook needs more users to spend more time on its site and surrender more information about themselves.

The import of a business model driven by addiction and surveillance became clearer in March, when The Observer of London and The New York Times jointly revealed that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained information about 50 million Facebook users in order to develop psychological profiles. That number has since risen to 87 million. Yet Zuckerberg and his company’s leadership seem incapable of imagining that their relentless pursuit of “openness and connection” has been socially destructive. With each apology, Zuckerberg’s blundering seems less like naiveté and more like malignant obliviousness. In an interview in July, he contended that sites denying the Holocaust didn’t contravene the company’s policies against hate speech because Holocaust denial might amount to good faith error. “There are things that different people get wrong,” he said. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” He had to apologize, again.

. . . .

People central to Facebook’s history have lately been expressing remorse over their contributions and warning others to keep their children away from it. Sean Parker, the company’s first president, acknowledged last year that Facebook was designed to cultivate addiction. He explained that the “like” button and other features had been created in response to the question, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” Chamath Palihapitiya, a crucial figure in driving Facebook’s growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” over his involvement in developing “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” Roger McNamee, an early investor and mentor to Zuckerberg, has become a full-time crusader for restraining a platform that he calls “tailor-made for abuse by bad actors.”

. . . .

Perhaps even more damning are the recent actions of Brian Acton and Jan Koum, the founders of WhatsApp. Facebook bought their five-year-old company for $22 billion in 2014, when it had only fifty-five employees. Acton resigned in September 2017. Koum, the only Facebook executive other than Zuckerberg and Sandberg to sit on the company’s board, quit at the end of April. By leaving before November 2018, the WhatsApp founders walked away from $1.3 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. When he announced his departure, Koum said that he was “taking some time off to do things I enjoy outside of technology, such as collecting rare air-cooled Porsches, working on my cars and playing ultimate Frisbee.”

However badly he felt about neglecting his Porsches, Koum was thoroughly fed up with Facebook. He and Acton are strong advocates of user privacy. One of the goals of WhatsApp, they said, was “knowing as little about you as possible.” They also didn’t want advertising on WhatsApp, which was supported by a 99-cent annual fee when Facebook bought it. From the start, the pair found themselves in conflict with Zuckerberg and Sandberg over Facebook’s business model of mining user data to power targeted advertising. (In late September, the cofounders of Instagram also announced their departure from Facebook, reportedly over issues of autonomy.)

At the time of the acquisition of WhatsApp, Zuckerberg had assured Acton and Koum that he wouldn’t share its user data with other applications. Facebook told the European Commission, which approved the merger, that it had no way to match Facebook profiles with WhatsApp user IDs. Then, simply by matching phone numbers, it did just that. Pooling the data let Facebook recommend that WhatsApp users’ contacts become their Facebook friends. It also allowed it to monetize WhatsApp users by enabling advertisers to target them on Facebook. In 2017 the European Commission fined Facebook $122 million for its “misleading” statements about the takeover.

Acton has been less discreet than Koum about his feelings. Upon leaving Facebook, he donated $50 million to the Signal Foundation, which he now chairs. That organization supports Signal, a fully encrypted messaging app that competes with WhatsApp. Following the Cambridge Analytica revelations, he tweeted, “It is time. #deletefacebook.”

Link to the rest at The New York Review of Books

Through a combination of conscious decisions and simply forgetting to do so, PG has cut way back on his Facebook use. If certain of PG’s relatives didn’t post photos of their extremely cute children, he would be off of it for good.

For those who enjoy Facebook, PG will continue to use a plugin that automatically forwards TPV posts to Facebook.

You can download Signal here.

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