Should You Hire a Social Media Assistant?

From Jane Friedman:

I hate social media. It’s an addictive rabbit-hole.

I just don’t have time. Social media takes away from my precious writing time.

I’m no good at creating those visuals and posts.

I hate all that self-promotion.

I’ve heard many authors—myself included—express frustration and dismay at the expectation that we will not only produce wonderful books, but also carry out what amounts to a second full-time job as our own marketing team. Most of us don’t mind holding events, whether live or virtual, where we get to engage with readers. Nor do we mind interviews, written or recorded, where we can talk about our books and our writing process. But what so many of us do hate is the seemingly bottomless pit of social media engagement.

Facebook, with all those reader and writer groups. Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest.

“Likes” and “follows.” Comments and messages and shares.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone else could do all this for us?

Someone else can—for a price, and with a few caveats.

What is a social media assistant?

Whether they call themselves virtual assistants, social media consultants, or author assistants, these are people who will manage your social media for you. Unlike publicists, who seek media coverage on your behalf, or direct marketers, whom you pay to advertise your book on their sites, such an assistant takes over tasks that you could, if you wanted, do yourself or learn how to do yourself. They may do it more attractively, strategically, or frequently—but they have no special credentials like the high-level media connections of a good publicist, nor any special access to important gatekeepers. What you’re buying, in effect, is time—and the freedom to use that time in other ways.

The questions are: How much is that time worth to you, and are there other benefits, besides freeing up your time, that a virtual assistant can offer?

. . . .

I now understand that social media is a long game, not a quick grab. It’s about the slow, steady development of connection and engagement. Like all relationships, it takes time and commitment. You have to show up every day, not just on birthdays and anniversaries. And that means a hefty investment of energy.

Not everyone wants to do that. After all, there’s no end to what we, as authors, might do to reach out to readers! Another thing I’ve learned is that no one can, or should, do everything. I advise those who ask me: “Just do the stuff that’s fun for you, and outsource—or forget—the rest of it.”

And there’s the heart of the matter: what should we do ourselves, what should we jettison, and what should we outsource?

Sometimes the answer is clear. If you want to pitch to the book review editor at The New York Times, you need a professional publicist to do so on your behalf—and even then, there’s no guarantee. Many authors I know are unhappy at what they now consider to be a poor “return on investment” after hiring a publicist at a cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. They’re wondering if there isn’t a middle ground between spending that kind of money, which most don’t have, and doing it all yourself.

A virtual assistant—someone who can manage author promotion on social media—can seem like an attractive option. At a cost far below that of a publicist, with a direct appeal to readers that can actually be tracked, social media assistance is a rapidly-growing alternative.

. . . .

Below are five composite summaries of the models I encountered—what they offer, how they work, their strengths and drawbacks.  In all cases, it’s important to remember what a virtual assistant cannot do. Since a VA has no access to your phone, she can’t post photos of you doing book-related things. Her posts will, of necessity, have a certain “artistic distance” to them.

VA #1 is a self-published author of several books who has a side-business helping authors with services ranging from proofreading and editing to developing marketing plans, social media coaching, and query critiquing. Her experience and familiarity with the writing world made her an attractive choice. I also liked the fact she offered three options or levels of service, although her prices were at the high end. However, she also had a full-time job and a book of her own launching soon. I wondered if she would really be able to give me the kind of ongoing support I was looking for.

VA #2 is a polished professional, whose website and proposal were evidence of the strong visual style I was looking for. She also provided references so I could see the Instagram accounts of several clients she manages, and the same quality or “flair” was evident there. She offered an expensive prix fixe package, with no flexibility—although her proposal was comprehensive and strategic, and included features like a weekly Instagram Story Reel that other proposals did not. I was hesitant, however, because she had never done social media for an author, and the demographic that her posts seemed to be targeting was not mine. Her work seemed to be geared to a younger, more style-conscious audience, and I wondered if she would know how to target the kind of readers (and book-buyers) I sought to attract.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

As a preliminary opinion, PG thinks social media savvy is more important than book biz savvy in a good social media helper for an author.

How and when to work the social media platforms is ideally instinctive and intuitive for a helper. Mixing in the book stuff is probably not hard to do for a good social media jockey.

Social media is about grabbing a few seconds of favorable attention and maybe a click-through. If the helper can do that for the author or the author’s book, PG suggests he/she has done the job.

Perhaps careful crafting and curation could improve click-through on a post a bit, but PG suggests that three good-enough posts -not dumb or clumsy-looking – will provide more benefits than one expensive and time-consuming-to-create post. Once a post is up, its sell-by date is probably measured in hours, a couple of days at most.

For PG, social media posts are analogous to a quip. Make one good quip, get a bit of positive attention, then make another quip.

PG suggests that if you want to dip a toe into the social media assistant water, you may want to hire someone on a temporary freelance basis.

If PG wanted to grow larger in social media (he doesn’t), he would contact a friend who teaches digital marketing at a local university and ask the friend to suggest a couple of smart first or second year students who might want to earn some money on the side and create some examples of their work for their portfolio when they are looking for a real job around graduation. Such a student might write a case study or two based on what he/she did on social media for PG.

While most of the visitors to The Passive Voice are not likely to have a professor friend who teaches digital marketing, at least some live within a reasonable distance of a community college or other higher educational institution. PG doesn’t know whether any high schools (public or private) teach this sort of thing, but that’s another place where some talented social media devotees may be found.

If an author were to pursue this path she/he would want to see some examples of the prospective helper’s work and check out the helper’s social media accounts to see their content plus how many followers, likes, comments, etc., the prospective helper had accrued.

If a potential helper was located, the author would likely want to review each potential post prior to it going online to determine whether it looked like something likely to help sell books, gain followers, etc.

Posting something someone else has created to a social media platform is a task even the majorly technophobic can likely learn with the tiniest bit of practice or guidance.

PG thinks it’s also a good idea for the author to “own” their social media accounts – their name and contact info on the account shows they’re the owner, they know the ID/PW for the social media account, etc. When one social media assistant goes on to bigger things, the author changes the password and hires a replacement.

One nice element that comes with a social media helper is that geography means almost nothing. She can leave the big city for small town life and still do everything she did for the author via the Net. A block away or halfway around the world, the working relationship can continue if both parties want it to.

PG admits that some of his attitude concerning the importance of social media knowledge vs. book domain knowledge comes as a result of working with a very large advertising agency in ancient times. (Printed advertising fliers were the latest thing and calligraphers were on their way out).

Advertising professionals often work on more than one account – insurance plus dog food was one of PG’s combos.

Agencies are also prone to move their employees to different accounts when it benefits the agency’s overall financial performance. Client A needs more agency resources, so creative, research, etc., professionals will be assigned spend time on Client A because Clients B and C shouldn’t need a lot of attention for awhile.

An advertising pro can figure out how to sell anything.

Smith lands Instagrammer’s guide to planning for Ebury

From The Bookseller:

Ebury Press editorial director Emma Smith has acquired Happy Planning, a “practical guide for those who like to prep” from Charlotte Plain, a.k.a. Instagrammer Princess Planning.

Smith bought world all language rights to the title directly from the author.

Plain is the person behind Instagram account and website Princess Planning, where she sells diaries, planners and stationery which aim to help organise and inspire positivity. Happy Planning will give readers the tools they need to plan every aspect of their life, from the weekly shop and daily meal prep to big occasions like weddings, parties and holidays.

The publisher explains: “Planning is about taking away last-minute panic pressure, gaining control and helping you to be the best version of yourself. Charlotte’s everyday approach has been so successful that she launched a business off the back of it, and is now sharing all of her practical and positive know-how in this book. As well as her planning mantras and toolkit, each section of the book is dedicated to an area of life that benefits from planning and is packed with personal learning experiences, planning methods, tips and tricks, practical guidance and interactive elements. It’s simple, positive and practical planning that will lead to a healthier happier you.”

Smith added: “We all need a good dose of practical positive planning in our lives (now, more than ever), so we are incredibly excited to be publishing an Instagram star”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG couldn’t resist visiting Princess Planning Ltd. on Instagram (192K followers). He found several Instagram star gems:

Weight loss is never just about losing the weight.

You have to lose the habits that got you there in the first place and replace them with better ones

Princess.Planning Ltd.

if 2020 was a chocolate it would be a turkish delight

Princess.Planning Ltd.

What would we do without traditional publishers to act as curators of culture?

It’s Not Easy Being a BookTuber

From Wired:

Daniel Greene makes a full-time living off his YouTube channel, discussing fantasy authors such as Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher. Talking about your favorite books all day might sound like a dream come true, but Greene says that building a successful channel is harder than people think.

“For a few years I was doing a video every day of the week, seven days a week, which was insane, while also being a software engineer,” Greene says in Episode 431 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’m a workaholic.”

In addition to dealing with sponsors and reading hundreds of pages a day, Greene also spends hours editing his videos to look as polished as possible. He notes that when late night talk show hosts were forced to broadcast from home due to Covid-19, their initial efforts were lackluster. “Those are professionals, those are people who have been doing this for so long, and they couldn’t figure it out really quick,” he says. “It just shows that YouTubers do put time and effort in to make their content quality.”

The biggest challenge with YouTube is adapting to the site’s mysterious and ever-shifting algorithm. Greene is careful to balance less popular content with familiar standbys that he knows will bring in traffic.

“I get 20-30 self-published authors reaching out to me a week, trying to get me to read their books,” he says. “I would love to read their books, I would love to promote them to my audience, but if I did even a fraction of those, it would take up a huge percentage of my videos, and YouTube would see ‘OK, he had five videos this week, three of them were about these self-published books that barely got 10K views, we’re going to demote him.’ And eventually I wouldn’t be able to do this job anymore.”

Link to the rest at Wired

5 Basic Rules of Social Media

From Social Media Just for Writers:

It’s so important to converse with readers, friends, and influencers in your sphere. If you don’t allocate time to chat, you are missing the point.

Because at its essencesocial media is social. So, to engage in social media and not allocate time to socialize, well, it’s antithetical to the very premise of social media.

. . . .

Be a social butterfly, in the best sense possible. Social media was never designed to be a broadcast messaging system the way radio and television are. Conversations are the backbone of social media, and that is what distinguishes it, and that is what has fueled its dominance in marketing. The beauty of social media for authors is that it allows you to converse with your readership in a manner that was never possible before Facebook was created. Indie authors have a powerful medium with which they can market their books, converse with their readers, answer questions in minutes, and further their relationships with their loyal readers, even though it’s all done virtually.

Don’t attempt to be the prom queen; strive to always be authentic and care about others. Don’t talk solely about yourself. Social media is an inclusive media. You will get further and do better if you help others, including helping other authors in your genre. You can interview your colleagues for your blog and share information about their promotions.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

The 22-Year-Old Blogger Behind Protests in Belarus

More under the category, “There are worse things than Covid.”

From The Atlantic:

In the videos posted last Sunday from Belarus, thousands of people can be seen streaming into the center of Minsk, walking up the broad avenues, gathering in a park. In smaller cities and even little towns—Brest, Gomel, Khotsimsk, Molodechno, Shklov—they are walking down main streets, meeting in squares, singing pop songs and folk songs. They are remarkably peaceful, and remarkably united. Many of them are carrying a flag, though not the country’s formal flag, the red and green flag used in the Soviet era. Instead, they carry a red-white-red striped flag, a banner first used in 1918 and long associated with Belarusian independence.

It was a marvelous feat of coordination: Just as in Hong Kong a few months ago, the crowds knew when to arrive and where to go. They knew what they were marching for: Many people carried posters with slogans like leave—directed at the Belarus dictator/president, Alexander Lukashenko—or freedom for political prisoners! or free elections! They carried the flag, or they wore red and white clothes, or they drove cars festooned with red and white balloons.

And yet, at most of these marches, few leaders were visible; no one ascended a stage or delivered a speech into a microphone. The opposition presidential candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who probably won the contested election held on August 9, fled the country last week. How did everyone know exactly what to do? The answer, improbably, is a 22-year-old blogger named Stsiapan Sviatlou, who lives outside the country and runs a channel called Nexta Live on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

On Sunday morning, Nexta—the word means “somebody”—posted a red and white invitation to the march. “Ring the doorbells of your neighbors, call your friends and relatives, write to your colleagues,” the message instructed them: “We are going EXCLUSIVELY peacefully to the center of town to hold the authorities to account.” The invitation also contained a list of demands: the immediate freeing of political prisoners, the resignation of Lukashenko, the indictment of those responsible for a shocking series of political murders.

People went to the Minsk march, and to dozens of smaller marches across the country, because they saw that message. On subsequent days, many went on strike because they saw another message on that channel and on channels like it. Over the past 10 days, people all across Belarus have marched, protested, carried red and white flags and banners, and gathered at factories and outside prisons because they trust what they read on Nexta. They trust Nexta even though Sviatlou is only 22 years old, even though he is an amateur blogger, and even though he is outside the country.

Or to put it more accurately, they trust Nexta because Sviatlou is only 22, and because he is an amateur who lives outside the country. In Belarus, the government is a kind of presidential monarchy with no checks, no balances, and no rule of law. State media are grotesquely biased: Memo98, a media-monitoring group, reckons that Belarus state television devoted 97 percent of all political news programming to Lukashenko in May and June, with only 30 seconds devoted to opposition presidential candidates. Political leaders in Belarus are routinely repressed, and their voices are muffled: Tsikhanouskaya was running for president because her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was arrested before he could start his own presidential campaign. Other candidates and politicians were also arrested, along with their staff. Some are still in prison. Human-rights groups have evidence of torture.

. . . .

Paradoxically, the Lukashenko regime is also the source of his unusual power. By suppressing all other sources of information, it has given him unprecedented influence. This also has its downsides. One member of the tiny but determined community of independent journalists in Belarus—I am leaving him unnamed because he remains in Minsk—pointed out that the administrators of Telegram channels outside the country (Sviatlou is one of several) have no way to check whether what they are publishing is true, and no way to coordinate what they are doing with anyone else. Although he does communicate with other channel administrators, as well as with coordinators in Minsk, mistakes are sometimes made. A couple of days ago, crosscurrents of information nearly led one group of opposition protesters into a public brawl with another.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Yoast SEO Secrets of the WordPress Elves

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Our fantastic webmaster, Barb Drozdowich of Bakerview Consulting, put a Yoast SEO plug-in on this blog when she rescued us several years ago. (After my disastrous attempt at turning this into a “monetized” blog. Note: Author blogs shouldn’t be monetized.)

Like most things about WordPress, I found the Yoast SEO secrets stuff daunting at first.

Some judgmental algorithms I call the “elves” wouldn’t give me a “green light” to publish my posts unless I passed muster with them. And they can be pretty fierce in enforcing their rules.

The elves have two tribes: the “readability” elves and the “SEO” elves. (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.) That means getting Google and other search engines to notice you, and hopefully put your post on the SERP. (First Search Engine Results Page.)

Both tribes can drive a creative writer batty.

On the other hand, our blog keeps getting Google love and our Alexa rating is down in the 120K range. It was up in the 600K range before we started using the plug-in. (Most author blogs can feel good about being in the 1 million range.)

So the elves know what Google likes, and if Google likes you, your traffic goes up.

. . . .

Yoast SEO was originally called “WordPress SEO.” A man named Joost de Valk developed it as a WordPress plugin in 2010. In 2012, WordPress renamed it Yoast SEO. (I assume “Yoast” is a phonetic spelling of Joost’s Dutch name.)

The “readability” rules are based on Flesch Reading Ease Test and Flesch-Kincaid reading grade level. The Reading Ease formula was invented by Rudolph Flesch in 1948 to help people write readable military training manuals.

Yeah. Military training manuals. Not fiction. Or creative nonfiction. Or fun, punchy blogposts.

Which is why when I put up a blogpost every week it almost always involves a battle with the elves.

. . . .

With the Yoast plug-in, you don’t get a list of rules. You discover each one when the elves give you a red, amber or green light on your copy. If you get a red or amber light, you must scroll down and find out what you’ve done “wrong” according to the Yoast rules.

This is probably wonderful for training manuals, but I do find some of the rules are less than helpful.

The problem is that the elves will red-light a lot of poetic writing. I do worry about what that is going to do our language in the long run. Online content is 90% of what most people read these days, and if it’s always aimed at a 7th grade level, will we lose the ability to write and  read more complex thoughts?

. . . .

Here are the things the readability elves will ding you on.

Repetition

They give you an automatic red light if you start three sentences in a row with the same word. So never quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom…”

Bad Mr. Dickens would never get a readability green light.

Long sentences

Any sentence longer than 20 words is considered too long.

Big paragraphs

Break up your paragraphs into two or three skimmable sentences.

A dearth of “transition” words

The elves love them some transition words. These are words and phrases like “And, But, Moreover, On the other hand, Therefore, Hence, Besides, Consequently,” or “In Summary.” They are the words a military training officer might use to make a point.

However, these are not words and phrases I use often, so I get the most scolding from the elves on my lack of transition words.

. . . .

The passive voice

If any more than 10% of your copy is written in the passive voice, you are on the elf poop list.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG tried Yoast a very long time ago when it was still WordPress SEO, but removed the plugin for reasons he doesn’t remember now.

Perhaps he’ll try it again if he can get over its bias towards the passive voice.

Fast or Slow

PG just discovered an interesting and potentially useful website.

Called Fast or Slow, it checks how responsive your website (or, apparently, any website) is in responding to various locations around the world.

Fast or Slow

PG is not certain exactly how accurate it is, but it seems (to his untutored eye) to provide potentially useful data. It’s sponsored by Wordfence, a reputable website security plugin.

I was thinking in status updates

When I was detoxing from social media, I realized that I was thinking in status updates. It seemed I had trained my brain to translate everything I experienced throughout the day into 140 characters or less.

Glennon Doyle Melton

6 Ideas for Promoting Your Book While Watching TV

From The Book Designer:

I’m one of those people who likes to watch TV to unwind, but just can’t sit there and watch TV. Know what I mean?

I don’t really like that about myself, but I’ve not only accepted it, I’ve learned to take advantage of it. I try to do something productive while sitting there – knitting, cleaning out my inbox, promoting my books, and so on.

That’s right. I promote my books while watching TV, and you can, too. If you’re a like me and find it difficult to just sit and look at the screen, try doing one of these book promotion activities the next time you’re sitting still in front of your favorite show.

1. Follow people on social media

Pull up the Twitter app on your smartphone and scroll through your notifications to find who has followed you recently — and follow them back. When you’re done with those, find a popular author in your genre on Twitter, and follow the people who follow her.

Do the same thing on other social networks, including LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram if appropriate.

2. Schedule tweets

Use a desktop tool such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck or a phone app like Everypost to schedule your tweets several days out — all during commercial breaks.

You can also retweet what others share either from your computer or smartphone — all without missing any of the TV action.

. . . .

4. Create tipographics and share them on Pinterest

Tipographics — also known as tip-o-graphics — are tip lists presented as images. I create them from my blog posts.

Each tipographic image features just the tips from a specific post. I add each image to my “Book Marketing Tipographics” board on Pinterest, and link each image back to the original blog post with all of the details. 

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

To tag or not to tag—when author feedback gets personal

From The Bookseller:

Would you walk up to an author at a book event, or on the street, and tell them how much you hated their book? No? But by creating a public work of art, surely authors are opening themselves up to scrutiny and should be prepared to take the rough with the smooth?

The idea of directly confronting an author with negative feedback may seem ridiculous—but it’s exactly the subject of a debate raging in social media. Many will have stumbled across the Twitter thread started by American sci-fi author Elizabeth Bear last week, in which she described any author tagging as “rude”.  As with many controversial opinions on Twitter, this sparked immediate attention—was it wrong to tag authors in reviews at all?  Or just the negative ones? Do all authors hate being tagged? Is it part of the job and a useful chance to get feedback, or just another sneaky form of cyber-bullying?

According to Bear, her original comment was slightly misinterpreted: “Of course, nobody minds being told, ‘I love your work!’” she explains. “The problem arises when an artist is placed in a position of having to seem to ignore, to endorse or to publicly disagree with criticism (even positive).” In other words, the real issue for Bear is having your hand forced—being baited not just to read reviews but to engage, even if by omission. In times gone by, responding to reviews was a rare phenomenon, save the odd newspaper-letters-spat. But isn’t simply being present on social media an invitation to engage?

Many authors on Twitter were quick to defend the bloggers and reviewers who—after all—bring much-needed attention to new releases, with several expressing a desire to be tagged in reviews no matter their content. “As an author, I love to hear readers’ opinions, good, bad or indifferent, so do like to be tagged,” explains UK thriller writer Matt Hilton.   

Others, like author Dawn Goodwin who pens psychological thrillers, felt being made aware of negative feedback was a useful way to improve their work going forward. “As an author, I like being tagged, opening a discussion with a reader, learning more about them. I think it makes me a better writer and I’m always appreciative of someone taking the time to engage with me,” she explains.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

8 Social Media Scheduling Apps for Writers

From Social Media Just for Writers:

If you don’t want to be online all day posting your tweets and images, you need to check out this list of eight social media scheduling apps.

The beauty of scheduling apps is that you can spend a few minutes each day or a week uploading your images, messages, captions, hashtags, and status updates.

Once you schedule your posts, all you have to do is check your social media accounts a few minutes a day to engage with your readers.

These apps help you stay regular with your posts and also improve your account growth. If you are starting with social media, apps on the lower end of the price range are an excellent option for you. 

. . . .

The Social Media Scheduling App I Use

#1 SocialOomph

SocialOomph is a social media scheduling app that lets users plan their posts on various social networking platforms. Use it with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Discord, and others. 

However, the free services are only active on Twitter and are very limited. The subscriptions start at $15 a month, and the app also features annual subscription options.

Pros: It’s easy to use and set up with Twitter. You can use this app to schedule recurring tweets. For example, if you create an image with a quote, you can set up the tweet to repeat every 24 weeks, once a year, or every 12 weeks or even more frequently. It is a useful feature that other apps don’t offer. I also set up recurring tweets for specific blog posts.

Cons: You can only use certain features on twitter for free. It isn’t straightforward to connect the app to LinkedIn. Also, the recurring post feature is available at an additional cost. Although I use and like this scheduling app, most writers will want an use one that is easier to set up.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

Facebook hacking that causes emotional distress

From Internetcases:

A recent federal case from Virginia provides information on the types of “losses” that are actionable under the federal anti-hacking statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).

. . . .

Plaintiff worked as a campaign manager, communications director and private sector employee of a Virginia state legislator. While plaintiff was in the hospital, defendant allegedly, without authorization, accessed plaintiff’s Facebook, Gmail and Google Docs accounts, and tried to access her Wells Fargo online account.

. . . .

Plaintiff sued, alleging a number of claims, among them a claim for violation of the CFAA. Defendant moved to dismiss. Although the court denied the motion to dismiss on other grounds, it held that plaintiff’s alleged emotional distress was not the type of “loss” that is actionable under the CFAA.

. . . .

One can bring a civil action under the CFAA if the defendant’s alleged conduct involves certain factors. One of those factors, set out at 18 U.S.C. § 1030(c)(4)(A)(i)(II), provides recovery if there is “the modification or impairment, or potential modification or impairment, of the medical examination, diagnosis, treatment, or care of 1 or more individuals”.

Plaintiff alleged that defendant’s unauthorized access and attempted access to her accounts caused her to sustain a “loss” under this definition because it caused her to suffer emotional distress for which she needed to seek counseling.

The court disagreed with plaintiff’s assertions. Essentially, the court held, the modification of or impairment of a plaintiff’s treatment must be based on impairment due to the ability to access or used deleted or corrupted medical records.

Link to the rest at Internetcases

Looking deeper into the Goodreads troll problem

From Camestros Felapton:

The repeated spamming of Patrick S Tomlinson’s unpublished book with fake reviews continues on Goodreads [see earlier post]. Looking at the long list of reviews (currently 124 ratings) it is clear that some have been removed, presumably after being flagged by multiple people. However, with the trolls targetting the book easily generating new accounts the net number of fake reviews continues to grow.

Current authors whose names have been stolen for fake reviews include:

  • Chuck Wendig
  • Gareth Powell
  • Beth Cato
  • Cat Rambo (and her deceased father)
  • Patrick Tomlinson himself
  • Will Tate
  • Monica Valentinelli
  • Marshall Ryan Maresca
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Tobias S Buckell
  • Sarah Pinkser
  • Elizabeth May

This kind of coordinated pre-emptive spamming of negative reviews isn’t new. The film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes had to take steps last year to curtail a right-wing attack on the as-the-time unreleased Captain Marvel.

. . . .

Preventing reviews of unreleased properties seems like a minimum first step in limiting the capacity of coordinated campaigns to hijack a review site. While it won’t prevent other coordinated attacks on released books, unreleased (but listed) works are more vulnerable as they have no natural reviews being written.

The identity theft aspect of these specific attacks is also a great concern. The overt and blatant aspect of the impersonations makes it unlikely that people would be easily tricked into thinking the accounts are genuine. However, the extent of them and how easily the trolls have generated multiple accounts using real identities, demonstrates that Goodreads is open to more subtle mischief and identity theft.

The source of the attacks is from members of a disbanded subreddit that have been engaged in a sustained harassment campaign against Tomlinson since 2018. Tomlinson himself has a longer explanation that documents the harassment in other venues: https://www.patrickstomlinson.com/2018/09/29/how-trolls-hack-twitter-to-silence-us/

The existence of a documented online harassment campaign really should be enough for a major website to take added measures. For example, Wikipedia limits the capacity of people to edit pages (particularly biographies of living persons) when there is repeated vandalism or disputed content. A temporary block on reviews on a Goodreads entry would be a wise measure to have available in the event of an alleged spam attack. Notably, a book receiving large numbers of reviews from accounts that are both new and which have made only one review should be an obvious red-flag.

. . . .

Actions that undermine reader’s ability to trust reviews and which undermine the capacity of authors to identify themselves manifestly undermine the basic aspects of Goodreads model as a service. This makes the difficulty the site is having dealing with this specific issue surprising. The ease with which a troll campaign can brazenly manipulate the site, strongly implies that a less overt campaign can manipulate ratings or spread disinformation unnoticed.

Link to the rest at Camestros Felapton

“Overestimating Humanity”: 21 More Reasons Why We Need #PlatformAccountability

From Creative Future:

Here we are … again.

Mark Zuckerberg was chewed out (again) on Capitol Hill.

Google enraged their employees (again) by trying to spy on them and for siding with China (again).

Cloudflare was outed (again) for refusing to crack down on criminal behavior on their network.

In other words, here is the latest installment in our ongoing coverage of the dumpster fire engulfing the world’s most powerful internet platforms.

And though these behemoths are now being scrutinized, investigated, and generally crapped on like never before, they just keep on raking in money. In the third quarter, Facebook’s earnings rose 29 percent from a year earlier, to $17.7 billion, while Google’s earnings report showed their profits rising by 20 percent to $40.5 billion. Meanwhile, Cloudflare’s IPO disappointed investors, but still created staggering wealth for the people responsible for the company becoming the service of choice for bad internet actors.

When will the cycle in which harm to society translates to big bucks for these companies end? Only when they are finally held accountable for their actions. The governments of the world are (much too) slowly catching on. But, they will only act if all of us keep the heat turned up.

To bring you up to date, here are 21 more reasons why we need #PlatformAccountability now, culled from across the spectrum of political, cultural, and sociological discourse.

. . . .

1. Because “accuracy and fairness” are not core to their mission.
“It is high time that we directly address the stark difference between legacy newspapers, radio, and television and today’s dominating digital technology companies. Traditional media companies have long accepted the burden — along with the significant cost and time — required to verify the words, images, and videos they publish. Accuracy and fairness are core to their mission. But not today’s digital media giants. Wrapping themselves in legal immunities that apply to no one else, digital publishers accept zero responsibility for the amplified fabrication, viral insanity, and dangerous untruths they routinely empower users to publish. Doing so would undermine their business model, which depends on monetizing users with targeted ads.”

– Julie Bernard, Chief Marketing Officer for Verve, a mobile marketing platform

2. Because they are publishers, but they don’t act like it.
“I am the owner of TIME magazine, and we’re a publisher. And, we’re responsible for the content on our platform… Well, Facebook is also a publisher. They need to be held responsible for what’s on their platform.”

– Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

3. Because they have “zero incentive” to care about abuse by bad actors.
“The ramifications of Section 230 immunity don’t just impact those harmed. Section 230 harms us all as a society. We are entering an era of greater surveillance, Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars, facial recognition technology. Companies developing this have ZERO incentive to be thinking about how their products will be abused and exploited by bad actors. Why? First and foremost because there is no pressure on them from the threat of litigation.”

– Carrie A. Goldberg, author of Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls

. . . .

7. Because their business model is “overestimating humanity.”
“Zuckerberg greatest mistakes have come from overestimating humanity. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to bring the world closer together. Without safeguards, Facebook’s tools can help tear it apart. It’s time for Facebook and Zuckerberg to recognize the difference between free expression and paid expression.”

– Josh Constine, Editor-At-Large, TechCrunch

. . . .

10. Because it’s 2019 and slavery is “booming…” on these platforms.
“An undercover investigation by BBC News Arabic has found that domestic workers are being illegally bought and sold online in a booming black market. Some of the trade has been carried out on Facebook-owned Instagram, where posts have been promoted via algorithm-boosted hashtags, and sales negotiated via private messages.”

– BBC News

. . . .

14. Because when they aren’t enabling child abuse, they are busily hard-wiring kids’ brains toward addiction.
“More than twice as many young people watch videos every day as did four years ago, and the average time spent watching videos — mostly on YouTube — has roughly doubled, to an hour each day… Usage has surged despite mounting concerns from parents and consumer groups about the grip that smartphones and screens have on kids’ lives and development. Advocates worry that features hard-wired into certain tech platforms, such as YouTube’s default autoplay setting, reinforce the impulse to keep watching.”

– The Washington Post, reporting on a study released by Common Sense Media

15. Because they are infested with fake, stolen, and dangerous goods.
“Google is among the search engines that show fake and possibly dangerous counterfeit goods in as much as 60% of their search results, putting consumers at risk… The potentially dangerous fake goods include car parts, pharmaceuticals, toys, appliances and safety equipment… Counterfeiting and piracy are estimated to cost brands billions of dollars in lost revenue worldwide, while also hampering their efforts to generate brand awareness and customer loyalty.”

– Marketing Dive, reporting on a study by intellectual property and brand protection company Incopro

. . . .

19. Because the size and scale of the platforms’ problems have lulled us into a state of helplessness.
“We are at an extraordinary crossroads. We have sufficient information to know that Facebook’s platform was used to subvert and undermine elections in the US, the UK and many other countries. But we pretend to be helpless to prevent it happening again. We’re not. We’re simply hamstrung by a government and an opposition that have chosen to ignore it.”

– Carole Cadwalladr, British journalist who exposed the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal

Link to the rest at Creative Future

It’s complicated and sometimes you have to break the rules

From Publetariat:

One of the nice things about NaNo is that even if you are a socially awkward wannabe writer dealing with medical issues, you can still meet cool people that you have at least something in common with. Topics of conversation are built right in! What are you working on? How many words? How many NaNos? Even I can’t screw it up much!

For me, NaNo is a bunch of positives. I get to focus on a creative project for myself! But I also use this time to focus on what writing skills I need to improve on. Totally against the NaNo code! Such a rebel!

I have found that lots of people use this time the way that they need to. Finishing up stories, starting new ones, and even *gasp* editing. Last year I focused on creating dialogue as that was something I was not comfortable with.

. . . .

This year I am facing a bigger fear. Blogging. I have a hard time writing posts and putting them out there.

I am not sure what my fear is. Ok, that is a lie, I know exactly what my fear is and I will spare you the deep introspective for now. Being a follower of the lizard brain theory I know that when the primitive section of my brain tells me not to do something because of a vague fear, then it is probably something I should face and culture.

So here I am. Facing fear and forcing myself to grow. By blogging….  I guess it sounds really silly when it is put that way. But that is what happens when we don’t face the issues that hold us back. Forcing yourself to deal with your lizard brain (but be kind) will put the issue in perspective.

Link to the rest at Publetariat

PG notes that one of the characteristics of the internet is that there is such a flood of information, sometimes he doesn’t notice when he hasn’t heard from someone for a while.

When he first started TPV, PG tapped Publetariat for items on a regular basis. When the OP popped up on one of his feedreaders and he clicked through, he was reminded that he hadn’t visited the site for a long time.

PG doesn’t know if he has a lizard brain or not. Perhaps the most primitive section of his brain has been handed down from Attila the Hun or it could still be comprised of a single-cell life-form who misses his buddies in the swamp.

Whatever his subconscious is doing, PG still enjoys putting together TPV and, if it becomes no fun, he will probably stop and go looking for a swamp.

The 30 Scariest Author Website Mistakes And How To Fix Them

From Bad Redhead Media:

I recently had the pleasure of taking part in the Wednesday evening #BookMarketingChat hosted by BadRedhead Media. Our topic was easy updates to refresh your author website. To prepare for the chat, I visited the sites of several writers, including those who have left comments here in the past. I figured I would snoop around and find out what kind of slips the average writer is making with this vital part of their online platform.

My verdict? As a community, we need to pull our socks up if we want to show our readers we value their website visits and respect their time. I saw too many websites that were dated in design, neglected in content, or both.

According to a Stanford University study, 75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website design. Readers will lose trust in your professionalism and the quality of your work if you can’t present a reasonably spiffy website to the world.

Since it’s October and Halloween is fast approaching, here are the 30 website mistakes I consider the scariest, in terms of turning your reader off. I’ll start with the ones I saw on multiple websites that are easiest to fix.

Dated items, which show how long you’ve neglected your website. For example:

  1. Blog post dates
  2. A book page which announces a title is “Coming Spring 2018”
  3. An events page with nothing forthcoming or recent
  4. Copyright year not current

. . . .

 Links to social media accounts that you no longer use. Watch out in particular for an icon advertising Google Plus, which shut down 6 months ago!

. . . .

Cluttered sidebars. Sidebars are a magnet for outdated distractions, for example: tag clouds, tiny photos of your followers, or badges for everywhere you’ve ever been featured. A little social proof is important, but too much looks desperate.

. . . .

No “About” page, and/or no contact information. Even if you’re writing with a pen name, you should still give visitors some context to connect with. Your readers want to get to know you, not just your work.

. . . .

Unless you’re using a free service, you don’t have to declare which theme you’re using, or that you’re powered by WordPress. Professionally designed websites don’t do this, so you needn’t either.

Link to the rest at Bad Redhead Media

 

What’s an Influencer Worth to Books?

From Publishers Weekly:

A mini-scandal lit up Twitter last month when the Cut featured a tell-all essay by 27-year-old writer Natalie Beach. In the piece, Beach exposes her seven-year relationship with her friend Caroline Calloway, who scored an agent and a reputed $375,000 book deal for her memoir. Beach, who ghostwrote the book, says her former bestie bought Instagram followers after being told by literary professionals that “no one would buy a memoir from a girl with no claim to fame and no fan base.”

Platform has always been key when putting together a nonfiction book proposal. But back in the not-so-very-distant past—a mere dozen years ago!—publishers were throwing six figures and two-book deals at anyone who had a half-decent story and a clip in the local newspaper. These days, a huge following on social media, particularly Instagram, is a must for a book deal.

The moment agents or editors hear an author has a small following or no following, it’s over. Yes, there are exceptions. Still, worthy authors are overlooked every day—in favor of a young woman with a photo of macarons that went viral? Now her friend the ghostwriter has CAA shopping rights to her story? Which era is crazier?

The Kardashian/Jenner sisters have 500 million followers. So how come fewer than 500,000 viewers (18–49) tuned in to the latest episode of their show? Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies sold fewer than 40,000 copies, according to BookScan—yet she remains a powerful influencer. When are publishers going to concede that number of followers (fake or not) is only one key to book sales?

Naturally, some influencers produce books that are megabestsellers (usually with a lot of help). That is because they deserve a wide audience for whatever message they are sending. Ariana Grande, who has one of the biggest social media followings in the world, should get a huge deal… because she’s an incredible singer with a fantastic story to tell—not because of her follower count!

. . . .

This latest story about two millennial influencers and their book deal reminds me of that hype. Except now I’m overprotective. Some wanna-be authors are using the acquisitions process to snow us, to dupe us, to basically make a mockery out of what publishing stands for—content. Is this what they mean by influence?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has two reactions to the OP:

  1. He has zero sympathy for publishers who are snowed, duped or mocked by anyone, including authors (or more likely their agents) who are looking for a book contract.
  2. If PG were looking for a book contract (he is not and never will), he would be inclined to buy Instagram followers if that would help get him a deal. If publishers can’t look farther than the number of followers on an author’s Instagram account, why not? Is there a strict code of ethics that binds publishers to do or not do things like puff up the quality/importance of a book they’re releasing? What’s sauce for the goose . . . .

Facebook has begun hiding likes (in Australia)

From C/Net:

Facebook began hiding likes on Friday, Sept. 27, making the number of reactions, views and likes visible only to a post’s author. The test kicked off in Australia, the social media giant confirmed last week, and includes ads.

“We are running a limited test where like, reaction and video view counts are made private across Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNET in an emailed statement on Sept. 26.

. . . .

As of Sept. 30, Facebook said it is still expanding the experiment to more people in Australia, but it should be out to the majority of people in the country within the next day or two.

The social network indicated earlier in September that it might experiment with hiding likes, after testing the approach on Facebook-owned Instagram this year. In August, Facebook said the Instagram test was meant to “remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive” on Instagram, and that Facebook was “excited by the early test results.”

Link to the rest at C/Net

PG would be interested in comments from serious Facebook users about whether this is a good/bad/whatever idea for authors who use FB as an important part of their promotional efforts.

6 Platforms to Add to Your 2019 Paid Social Toolkit

From Social Media Week:

According to Hanapin, 26% of marketers plan to reduce their ad spend on Facebook. Inspired by the report, we suggest other places to fill in the gaps.

. . . .

Paid social is becoming a crowded space, with 97% of marketers reportedly dedicating money to advertising through social media. Between the growing audiences of these platforms, and the rising cost of similar ads in search, ad spends across social make far more sense to the budget-conscious and the efficiency-obsessed. To that end, Hanapin Marketing takes time every year to assess the state of the paid social marketing landscape, and this week they shared their latest learnings with the world.

Where is most of the crowd congregating? To the surprise of no one: Facebook, who has garnered the attention of 91% of the surveyed population. Brand managers and agency reps aside have grown to depend on it for reliable reach and sophisticated analytics. But in a number of ways, new platforms are rising to rival its dominance…especially as 26% of marketers reported they plan to spend less on the platform throughout 2019.

. . . .

“We are becoming conditioned to favor video as a means of communication,” Hanapin reported in their study, “and it is unsurprising that social media consumption would reflect that behavior.” Moreover, it is unsurprising that platforms who are friendly to video – both algorithmically and in terms of features – will rise quickly as this conditioning takes root. As such, Instagram and YouTube were the two platforms Hanapin found that have the biggest chance of rivaling Facebook.

On each platform, highly dynamic ad formats were found to be both incredibly popular and highly effective. For YouTube, pre-roll (skippable) ads are far and away the most frequently used format; even when skipped, they do play a role in consumer decisions. And for Instagram, compelling Story Ads have fast become the most effective form. Not only has each become more hospitable to how we regularly consume content, but the interfaces that allow us to craft and place ads have grown in sophistication—making our time and energy in these spaces ever more worthwhile.

. . . .

“Quora was predicted in last year’s report to be an up and coming platform for advertising,” Hanapin shared in this year’s report, “and it sure has proven itself.” While numbers are still small for paid social, investment in ads on the question-and-answer based platform has quadrupled in 2019. Much of this can be attributed to the attention Quora itself has given to advertising; they’ve released 5 beta programs to target and place ads, and stand to release several more before year’s end. You’d be wise to explore the platform before it too gets crowded; 27% of marketers want to up their spend there (compared to 9% the year before).

For the fringe treatment that Reddit often gets, Hanapin rightfully points out the highly engaged and authentic nature of its users, additionally sharing that its average use and engagement outpaces other outlets we look to more readily for advertisement—including Twitter, Pinterest, and the aforementioned Snapchat and Pinterest. As with Quora, their ad targeting, reporting, and campaign management tools are continuing to evolve, likely to anticipate more advertisers wanting to be there. For brand managers and agencies hoping to help clients stand apart, this pair of rising platforms could be worth your time, energy…and ad dollars.

Link to the rest at Social Media Week

Tumblr and the End of the Eyeballs-Are-Everything Era

From The Wall Street Journal:

At its apex, Tumblr had more users than both Instagram, now estimated to be worth close to $200 billion to parent Facebook , and Pinterest , which has a market cap of nearly $18 billion. In 2013, Tumblr sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. On Monday, the parent company of WordPress.com bought it for a pittance.

The precise amount is hard to pin down but insiders have observed that there are modest homes in Silicon Valley that might be comparable in price. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s former chief executive, once described Tumblr as an “incredibly special” property with “105 million different blogs, 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 sign-ups every day.”

“We promise not to screw it up,” she famously added. And now look where we are.

Tumblr was ostensibly a blogging site but it quickly became one of the dominant, if hard-to-navigate, social networks of the early aughts. It attracted users who made and shared memes, art, their random thoughts and, eventually, a sense of community. Its mechanisms were opaque to outsiders: For many years, it didn’t have a function for direct messages or even traditional commenting, forcing users to communicate with each other by, among other things, reblogging each other’s posts.

Since it was difficult or impossible for outsiders to insert themselves into conversations, and because it was and still is a place that allows pseudonymous accounts, the site felt safe for members of marginalized communities, says Alexander Cho, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine, who coedited a forthcoming book on the history of Tumblr.

“Tumblr can be as anonymous as you want it to be, and that allows people to share in a way they might not on Facebook,” says Catherine Holderness, Tumblr’s senior community trends analyst.

. . . .

Alas, Tumblr was inherently ill-suited to advertising, says Katrin Tiidenberg, a social-media researcher at Tallinn University in Estonia who has studied Tumblr for years. Its impenetrability was a challenge to advertisers. On top of that, many of its users interspersed their posts on various fandoms, obsessions and memes with sexual content. “A lot of advertising clients, particularly in the U.S., get disproportionately nervous about being seen next to someone’s boobs,” says Dr. Tiidenberg.

Advertisers instead turned increasingly to the ostensibly safer realms of Google and Facebook. Together, the two giants now suck up 57% of all digital ad spend, according to eMarketer. In addition to owning the biggest ad networks, their crown jewels are incredibly sophisticated advertising engines that drive measurable results for advertisers.

. . . .

It also doesn’t help that Tumblr, never a very polished or particularly reliable service to begin with, had a hard time going mobile. That’s where Google and Facebook ended up moving—quickly, through acquisitions and manic development—to maintain their revenue growth.

“The site was just fundamentally broken; it broke all the time” says Klaudia Amenábar, a senior media producer and comics vlogger who is also a self-described Tumblr power user. Now 24, she found the service at 16 and has been on it ever since, building a career in fandoms and social media from what she learned there. “The mobile app is a lot better now, but before, jokes about the mobile app were rampant on Tumblr,” she adds.

In the past year, Tumblr’s traffic has dropped by more than 40%, from approximately 640 million visits in July 2018 to around 380 million now. Much of that drop happened after the service implemented a ban on adult content.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Three Years of Misery Inside Google, the Happiest Company in Tech

From Wired:

On a bright Monday in January 2017, at 2:30 in the afternoon, about a thousand Google employees—horrified, alarmed, and a little giddy—began pouring out of the company’s offices in Mountain View, California. They packed themselves into a cheerful courtyard outside the main campus café, a parklike area dotted with picnic tables and a shade structure that resembles a giant game of pickup sticks. Many of them held up handmade signs: “Proud Iranian-American Googler,” “Even Introverts Are Here,” and of course, “Don’t Be Evil!” written in the same kindergarten colors as the Google logo.

After a few rounds of call-and-response chanting and testimonials from individual staffers, someone adjusted the rally’s microphone for the next speaker’s tall, lanky frame. Sundar Pichai, Google’s soft-spoken CEO of 15 months, stood in the small clearing in the dense crowd that served as a makeshift stage. “Over the last 24 to 48 hours, we’ve all been working very hard,” he said, “and every step of the way I’ve felt the support of 60,000 people behind me.”

It was, to be precise, January 30; Donald Trump’s presidency was 10 days old. And Executive Order 13769—a federal travel ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and a wholesale suspension of US refugee admissions—had been in effect for 73 hours, trapping hundreds of travelers in limbo at the nation’s airports. For the moment, the company’s trademark admonition against evil was being directed at a clear, unmistakably external target: the White House.

To all the world it looked as if Google—one of the most powerful, pro-immigrant, and ostensibly progressive corporations in the United States—was taking a unified stand. But that appearance of unanimity masked a welter of executive-level indecision and anxiety. It probably would have been more apt if Pichai had said that, over the previous 48 hours, he had been backed into a corner by thousands of his employees.

In those first days of the Trump era, Google’s leaders were desperate to avoid confrontation with the new regime. The company’s history of close ties to the Obama administration left executives feeling especially vulnerable to the reactionary movement—incubated partly on Google’s own video platform, YouTube—that had memed, rallied, and voted Trump into office. (It didn’t help that Eric Schmidt, then executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, had been an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or that some 90 percent of political donations by Google employees had gone to Democrats in 2016.) Kent Walker, Google’s risk-averse vice president of public policy, had been advising staffers not to do anything that might upset Steve Bannon or Breitbart. So when the travel ban was announced on the afternoon of Friday, January 27, Google executives initially hoped to “just keep [their] heads down and allow it to blow over,” according to an employee who was close to those early calculations.

But the tribal dictates of Google’s own workforce made lying low pretty much impossible. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the former Montessori kids who founded Google as Stanford grad students in the late ’90s, had designed their company’s famously open culture to facilitate free thinking. Employees were “obligated to dissent” if they saw something they disagreed with, and they were encouraged to “bring their whole selves” to work rather than check their politics and personal lives at the door. And the wild thing about Google was that so many employees complied. They weighed in on thousands of online mailing lists, including IndustryInfo, a mega forum with more than 30,000 members; Coffee Beans, a forum for discussing diversity; and Poly-Discuss, a list for polyamorous Googlers. They posted incessantly on an employee-only version of Google+ and on Memegen, an internal tool for creating and upvoting memes. On Thursdays, Google would host a company-wide meeting called TGIF, known for its no-holds-barred Q&As where employees could, and did, aggressively challenge executives.

All that oversharing and debate was made possible by another element of Google’s social contract. Like other corporations, Google enforces strict policies requiring employees to keep company business confidential. But for Google employees, nondisclosure wasn’t just a rule, it was a sacred bargain—one that earned them candor from leadership and a safe space to speak freely about their kinks, grievances, and disagreements on internal forums.

Finally, to a remarkable extent, Google’s workers really do take “Don’t Be Evil” to heart. C-suite meetings have been known to grind to a halt if someone asks, “Wait, is this evil?” To many employees, it’s axiomatic: Facebook is craven, Amazon is aggro, Apple is secretive, and Microsoft is staid, but Google genuinely wants to do good.

All of those precepts sent Google’s workforce into full tilt after the travel ban was announced. Memegen went flush with images bearing captions like “We stand with you” and “We are you.” Jewglers and HOLA, affinity groups for Jewish and Latinx employees, quickly pledged their support for Google’s Muslim group. According to The Wall Street Journal, members of one mailing list brainstormed whether there might be ways to “leverage” Google’s search results to surface ways of helping immigrants; some proposed that the company should intervene in searches for terms like “Islam,” “Muslim,” or “Iran” that were showing “Islamophobic, algorithmically biased results.” (Google says none of those ideas were taken up.) At around 2 pm that Saturday, an employee on a mailing list for Iranian Googlers floated the possibility of staging a walkout in Mountain View. “I wanted to check first whether anyone thinks this is a bad idea,” the employee wrote. Within 48 hours, a time had been locked down and an internal website set up.

. . . .

As the Trump era wore on, Google continued to brace itself for all manner of external assaults, and not just from the right. The 2016 election and its aftermath set off a backlash against Silicon Valley that seemed to come from all sides. Lawmakers and the media were waking up to the extractive nature of Big Tech’s free services. And Google—the company that had casually introduced the internet to consumer surveillance, orderer of the world’s information, owner of eight products with more than a billion users each—knew that it would be an inevitable target.

But in many respects, Google’s most vexing threats during that period came from inside the company itself. Over the next two and a half years, the company would find itself in the same position over and over again: a nearly $800 billion planetary force seemingly powerless against groups of employees—on the left and the right alike—who could hold the company hostage to its own public image.

In a larger sense, Google found itself and its culture deeply maladapted to a new set of political, social, and business imperatives. To invent products like Gmail, Earth, and Translate, you need coddled geniuses free to let their minds run wild. But to lock down lucrative government contracts or expand into coveted foreign markets, as Google increasingly needed to do, you need to be able to issue orders and give clients what they want.

For this article, WIRED spoke with 47 current and former Google employees. Most of them requested anonymity. Together, they described a period of growing distrust and disillusionment inside Google that echoed the fury roaring outside the company’s walls. And in all that time, Google could never quite anticipate the right incoming collision. After the travel ban walkout, for example, the company’s leaders expected the worst—and that it would come from Washington. “I knew we were snowballing toward something,” a former executive says. “I thought it was going to be Trump calling us out in the press. I didn’t think it was gonna be some guy writing a memo.”

. . . .

“[Conservative male Google engineer James]

Damore framed his memo as an appeal for intellectual diversity, identifying his reasoning as a conservative political position silenced by Google’s “ideological echo chamber.” “It’s a perspective that desperately needs to be told at Google,” Damore wrote.

Plenty of Damore’s colleagues, however, had heard this perspective before. Ad nauseam. “People would write stuff like that every month,” says one former Google executive. When the subject of diversifying Google’s workforce comes up in big meetings and internal forums, one black female employee says, “you pretty much need to wait about 10 seconds before someone jumps in and says we’re lowering the bar.”

. . . .

To Liz Fong-Jones, a site reliability engineer at Google, the memo’s arguments were especially familiar. Google’s engineers are not unionized, but inside Google, Fong-Jones essentially performed the function of a union rep, translating employee concerns to managers on everything from product decisions to inclusion practices. She had acquired this informal role around the time the company released Google+ to the public in 2011; before launch, she warned executives against requiring people to use their real names on the platform, arguing that anonymity was important for vulnerable groups. When public uproar played out much as Fong-Jones had predicted, she sat across from executives to negotiate a new policy—then explained the necessary compromises to irate employees. After that, managers and employees started coming to her to mediate internal tensions of all sorts.

As part of this internal advocacy work, Fong-Jones had become attuned to the way discussions about diversity on internal forums were beset by men like Cernekee, Damore, and other coworkers who were “just asking questions.” To her mind, Google’s management had allowed these dynamics to fester for too long, and now it was time for executives to take a stand. In an internal Google+ post, she wrote that “the only way to deal with all the heads of the medusa is to no-platform all of them.”

. . . .

On Monday morning, Google’s top management finally met to discuss what to do about Damore. The room, according to reporting by Recode, was split. Half the executives believed Damore shouldn’t be fired. Then YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and head of communications Jessica Powell urged their colleagues to consider how they would have reacted if Damore had applied the same arguments to race, rather than gender. That persuaded them: The engineer had to go. In a note to employees, Pichai said he was firing Damore for perpetuating gender stereotypes.

In his message, Pichai tried to assure the left without alienating the right. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” he wrote. “At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent.”

. . . .

In the past Google had fired an employee for leaking internal memes from Memegen. But when the targeted employees reported harassment, they say, Google’s security team told them that the leaking of screenshots might fall under the legal definition of “protected concerted activity”—the same labor right invoked by Cernekee.

To Fong-Jones, the security team’s answer was both shocking and instructive; she didn’t realize a leaker could be protected. “Everyone thought Google had an absolute right to stop you from talking about anything related to Google,” she says. Yet here Google’s hands were apparently tied by labor law.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG reminds one and all that TPV is not a political blog.

The reason he posted this excerpt from a much longer article is because most SEO strategies used by many authors (or promotional service-providers) are focused on Google. Additionally, within Amazon’s world, similar SEO practices often come into play with respect to book descriptions, the wording of advertisements, etc.

PG doesn’t recall seeing anything recently about Amazon’s practices impacting the visibility of categories of books that promote disfavored ideas but he may have simply missed such reports.

That said, Google and Amazon recruit engineers from the same overall pool of young smart recent college graduates.

PG is particularly concerned about the rising acceptance and use of deplatforming, a form of political action/prior restraint that proactively shuts down controversial speakers or speech, frequently by denying them access to a venue in which to express their opinion.

Under established First Amendment law in the United States, prior restraint of speech (prohibiting  speech or other expression before the speech happens) by government action is greatly disfavored.

A distinction is drawn between prior restraint by government and prior restraint by non-government actors. However, for PG, the underlying rationale disfavoring prior restraint is still persuasive, particularly when prior restraint is focused on squelching a popularly-disfavored view and exercised by a large and powerful corporation against an individual.

 

The Secret to Success on Youtube? Kids

From Wired:

Kids love YouTube. They love the pinging of the xylophones in the upbeat “Thank you song” on CoCoMelon, a channel with more than 53 million subscribers that plays animated nursery rhymes. They love watching other kids open and test toys, as they do on Ryan ToysReview (subscriber count: 20,749,585). And they love the Baby Shark song. Possibly because of the fun dance moves and possibly because they want to drive adults crazy.

These trends are nothing new, but now we have more than vast subscriber counts or astounding click numbers to illustrate just how central videos featuring kids are to the platform. In a report Thursday, the Pew Research Center said that in the vast ecosystem of YouTube’s English-language videos, children’s content and content featuring kids under 13 are some of the most popular videos on the site.

For the study, researchers analyzed the videos posted by 43,000 YouTube channels, each with more than 250,000 subscribers, during the first week of 2019. There was a lot to work with. In those seven days, these channels posted almost a quarter-million videos totalling more than 48,000 hours. For the record, the authors note, “a single person watching videos for eight hours a day (with no breaks or days off) would need more than 16 years to watch all the content.”

Those videos covered everything from politics to video games. Most were not intended for kids. But the most popular featured kids. Researchers found that just 2 percent of the videos they analyzed featured a child or children that appeared to be younger than 13. “However, this small subset of videos averaged three times as many views as did other types of videos,” says the report.

There have been studies of niche communities within YouTube, but “We hadn’t seen something like this done before,” says Aaron Smith, director of the data lab team at Pew. Although YouTube children’s content wasn’t the impetus for the study, Smith says the results weren’t surprising: “We had a sense that this kind of content would be fairly popular. We know that lots of parents let their kids watch videos on YouTube.”

Videos with cheery, if nonsensical, titles like “Funny Uncle John Pretend Play w/ Pizza Food Kitchen Restaurant Cooking Kids Toys,” and “No No, Baby Rides the Scooter!” racked up over 6 million views each. “SUPERHERO BABIES MAKE A GINGERBREAD HOUSE SUPERHERO BABIES PLAY DOH CARTOONS FOR KIDS,” attracted almost 14 million views.

Not all the videos that featured young kids were nursery rhymes or traditional kids content like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Pew’s analysis found that only 21 percent of videos featuring children appeared to have been aimed at kids. But videos that were both aimed at kids and featured kids were the most popular videos in Pew’s analysis, averaging four times as many views as other “general audience” videos.

As for the other 79 percent of videos that had kids but weren’t directly aimed at children? They did better too, getting “substantially more” attention than other videos aimed at teens and adults. The five most popular videos from the week Pew studied included a baby name reveal and family vlogs with titles like “WELCOMING A NEW MEMBER OF FAMILY!!” One was a sliming video. None are immediately alarming, though Smith couldn’t comment on why that kind of content was so attractive to so many viewers. “Why that type of material pops is unclear to me,” he says. “Someone clearly is enjoying it but it’s not clear who those folks are or what their motivations are for doing that.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG’s general impression is that the videos that traditional publishers post on YouTube to promote books look cheap and are lame. The ones he recalls had very few viewers at the time he checked them.

However, he wondered if any authors have popular YouTube channels that play a significant part in the promotion and marketing of their books. Feel free to point out examples in the comments.

PG is particularly interested in productive YouTube channels from authors who are not megaseller/JK Rowling, etc., authors.

The Artist Behind Social Media’s Latest Big Idea

From Medium:

Since 2012, an Illinois-based artist named Ben Grosser has been exploring how numbers — the number of likes on a post, the number of friends or followers you’ve amassed — shape the experience of using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. To anyone who would listen, he has espoused the view that those numbers, known as metrics, mold our online behavior in ways deeper and more insidious than we realize — and that we’d all be better off without them.

Seven years later, in a very different era for social media, the world’s largest tech companies have themselves begun experimenting with what Grosser calls “demetrication.” Twitter rolled out a beta app in which reply threads no longer display the number of likes, retweets, and replies on each tweet, unless you tap on it specifically. Instagram announced last week that it’s expanding a test that goes much farther, hiding the number of likes and video views on every post in your feed. You can still see how many people liked your own posts, but the move will remove any possibility of comparing the numbers on your own beach selfie to your friend’s (or frenemy’s). And YouTube opted in May to replace real-time subscriber counts on its channels with rounded estimates.

. . . .

The CEOs of both Twitter and Instagram have articulated their rationales in terms that evoke Grosser’s critiques, noting how the visual prominence of like and follower counts can encourage people to treat the platforms like a competition.

. . . .

Grosser was an artist, programmer, and graduate student at the University of Illinois in 2012 when he started reflecting on some of the queasier aspects of his relationship with Facebook, such as the way he found himself judging his posts by how many likes they received. “I started realizing how obsessed I was feeling about those numbers, and wondering why was I having those feelings, and wondering, whom did those feelings benefit?”

Link to the rest at Medium

PG also notes that there are a great many ways to artificially increase likes, replies, retweets, etc., that any comparison of those numbers between authors (or anyone else) is almost certainly not reflective of the truth.

Why Should Authors Read Your Bad Reviews?

From The Guardian:

History has yet to find the book that is universally adored – or the author who enjoys reading bad reviews. While Angie Thomas has topped the charts and scooped up armloads of awards for her two young adult novels, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, her recent request that book bloggers stop sending her their negative reviews saw her on the receiving end of a wave of vitriol.

Thomas wasn’t asking reviewers to stop writing bad reviews. She was just asking that they didn’t give her a prod on Twitter or Instagram to tell her about it.

“Guess what? WE ARE PEOPLE WITH FEELINGS. What’s the point of tagging an author in a negative review? Really?” she wrote on Twitter. “We have to protect our mental space. Too many opinions, good or bad, can affect that … Getting feedback from too many sources can harm your writing process. I have a group of people whose feedback I value – my editor, my agent, other authors who act as beta readers. With the position I’m in, social media is for interacting with readers, not for getting critiques.”

. . . .

Authors have been saying for years that they would prefer not to be tagged in bad reviews on social media. In November, Lauren Groff wrote that “tweeting it [a review] to a writer is like grabbing their cheeks and shouting it into their face”. It even happened before the social media era, such as when Alain de Botton was told about Caleb Crain’s review of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (“I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make,” wrote de Botton on Crain’s website). And perhaps, Martin Amis’s publishers should have kept him in the dark about Tibor Fischer’s write up of Yellow Dog. (“A creep and a wretch. Oh yeah: and a fat-arse,” said Amis of Fischer.)

But the blowback against Thomas is disproportionate when compared to how reviewers have reacted to this request in the past. As she herself points out: “Plenty of white authors have said the same thing about reviews without getting the same kind of attacks that I’ve received.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Social Media Could Make It Impossible to Grow Up

The following is a longer post/excerpt than PG usually includes on TPV, but the topic fascinated him.

PG is happy that the foolish things he did in high school and college have disappeared into thickening mists of the fading memories scrabbling for survival within the minds of himself and fellow members of the Order of Lavishly Idiotic Youth.

From Wired:

Several decades into the age of digital media, the ability to leave one’s childhood and adolescent years behind is now imperiled. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, it is evident that a majority of young people with access to mobile phones take and circulate selfies on a daily basis. There is also growing evidence that selfies are not simply a tween and teen obses­sion. Toddlers enjoy taking selfies, too, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, have even managed to put their images into circula­tion. What is the cost of this excessive documentation? More spe­cifically, what does it mean to come of age in an era when images of childhood and adolescence, and even the social networks formed during this fleeting period of life, are so easily preserved and may stubbornly persist with or without one’s intention or desire? Can one ever transcend one’s youth if it remains perpetually present?

The crisis we face concerning the persistence of childhood images was the least of concerns when digital technologies began to restruc­ture our everyday lives in the early 1990s. Media scholars, sociolo­gists, educational researchers, and alarmists of all political stripes were more likely to bemoan the loss of childhood than to worry about the prospect of childhood’s perpetual presence. A few educa­tors and educational researchers were earnestly exploring the poten­tial benefits of the internet and other emerging digital technologies, but the period was marked by widespread moral panic about new media technologies. As a result, much of the earliest research on young people and the internet sought either to support or to refute fears about what was about to unfold online.

. . . .

Many adults feared that if left to surf the web alone, children would suffer a quick and irreparable loss of innocence. These concerns were fueled by reports about what allegedly lurked online. At a time when many adults were just beginning to venture online, the internet was still commonly depicted in the popular media as a place where anyone could easily wander into a sexually charged multiuser domain (MUD), hang out with computer hackers and learn the tricks of their criminal trade, or hone their skills as a terrorist or bomb builder. In fact, doing any of these things usually required more than a single foray onto the web. But that did little to curtail perceptions of the internet as a dark and dangerous place where threats of all kinds were waiting at the welcome gate.

. . . .

A common theme underpinning both popular and scholarly arti­cles about the internet in the 1990s was that this new technology had created a shift in power and access to knowledge. A widely reprinted 1993 article ominously titled “Caution: Children at Play on the Infor­mation Highway” warned, “Dropping children in front of the com­puter is a little like letting them cruise the mall for the afternoon. But when parents drop their sons or daughters off at a real mall, they gen­erally set ground rules: Don’t talk to strangers, don’t go into Victoria’s Secret, and here’s the amount of money you’ll be able to spend. At the electronic mall, few parents are setting the rules or even have a clue about how to set them.”

. . . .

In such a context, it is easy to understand why the imperiled innocence of children was invoked as a rationale for increased regulation and monitoring of the internet. In the United States, the Communications Decency Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, gained considerable support due to widespread fears that without increased regulation of communications, the nation’s children were doomed to become perverts and digital vigi­lantes.

. . . .

Jenkins was not the only one to insist that the real challenge was to empower children and adolescents to use the internet in productive and innovative ways so as to build a new and vibrant public sphere. We now know that a critical mass of educators and parents did choose to allow children ample access to the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s. Those young people ended up building many of the social media and sharing economy platforms that would transform the lives of people of all ages by the end of the first decade of the new millen­nium.

. . . .

Among the more well­-known skeptics was another media theorist, Neil Postman. Postman argued in his 1982 book The Disappearance of Childhood that new media were eroding the distinction between childhood and adulthood. “With the electric media’s rapid and egalitarian dis­closure of the total content of the adult world, several profound consequences result,” he claimed. These consequences included a diminishment of the authority of adults and the curiosity of children. Although not necessarily invested in the idea of childhood innocence, Postman was invested in the idea and ideal of childhood, which he believed was already in decline. This, he contended, had much to do with the fact that childhood—a relatively recent historical invention—is a construct that has always been deeply entangled with the history of media technologies.

While there have, of course, always been young people, a number of scholars have posited that the concept of childhood is an early modern invention. Postman not only adopted this position but also argued that this concept was one of the far­-reaching consequences of movable type, which first appeared in Mainz, Germany, in the late 15th century. With the spread of print culture, orality was de­moted, creating a hierarchy between those who could read and those who could not. The very young were increasingly placed outside the adult world of literacy.

During this period, something else occurred: different types of printed works began to be produced for different types of readers. In the 16th century, there were no age­-based grades or corresponding books. New readers, whether they were 5 or 35, were expected to read the same basic books. By the late 18th century, however, the world had changed. Children had access to children’s books, and adults had access to adult books. Children were now regarded as a separate category that required protection from the evils of the adult world. But the reign of childhood (according to Postman, a period running roughly from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries) would prove short­-lived. Although earlier communications technologies and broadcasting mediums, from the telegraph to cinema, were already chipping away at childhood, the arrival of television in the mid­-20th century marked the beginning of the end. Postman con­cludes, “Television erodes the dividing line between childhood and adulthood in three ways, all having to do with its undifferentiated ac­cessibility: first, because it requires no instruction to grasp its form; second, because it does not make complex demands on either mind or behavior; and third, because it does not segregate its audience.”

. . . .

In the final chapter, Postman poses and responds to six questions, including the following: “Are there any communication technologies that have the potential to sustain the need for child­hood?” In response to his own question, he replies, “The only technology that has this capacity is the computer.” To program a computer, he explains, one must in essence learn a language, a skill that would have to be acquired in childhood: “Should it be deemed necessary that everyone must know how computers work, how they impose their special world­view, how they alter our definition of judgment—that is, should it be deemed necessary that there be uni­versal computer literacy—it is conceivable that the schooling of the young will increase in importance and a youth culture different from adult culture might be sustained.” But things could turn out dif­ferently. If economic and political interests decide that they would be better served by “allowing the bulk of a semiliterate population to entertain itself with the magic of visual computer games, to use and be used by computers without understanding … childhood could, without obstruction, continue on its journey to oblivion.”

. . . .

Thanks to Xerox’s graphical user interface, eventually popularized by Apple, by the 2000s one could do many things with computers without knowledge of or interest in their inner workings. The other thing that Postman did not anticipate is that young people would be more adept at building and programming computers than most older adults. Fluency in this new language, unlike most other languages, did not deepen or expand with age. By the late 1990s, there was little doubt that adults were not in control of the digital revolution. The most ubiquitous digital tools and platforms of our era, from Google to Facebook to Airbnb, would all be invented by people just out of their teens. What was the result? In the end, childhood as it once existed (i.e., in the pre-­television era) was not restored, but Postman’s fear that childhood would disappear also proved wrong. Instead, some­thing quite unexpected happened.

. . . .

Today, the distinction be­tween childhood and adulthood has reemerged, but not in the way that Postman imagined.

In our current digital age, child and adolescent culture is alive and well. Most young people spend hours online every day exploring worlds in which most adults take little interest and to which they have only limited access. But this is where the real difference lies. In the world of print, adults determined what children could and could not access—after all, adults operated the printing presses, purchased the books, and controlled the libraries. Now, children are free to build their own worlds and, more importantly, to populate these worlds with their own content. The content, perhaps not surprisingly, is pre­dominantly centered on the self (the selfie being emblematic of this tendency). So, in a sense, childhood has survived, but its nature—what it is and how it is experienced and represented—is increas­ingly in the hands of young people themselves. If childhood was once constructed and recorded by adults and mirrored back to children (e.g., in a carefully curated family photo album or a series of home video clips), this is no longer the case. Today, young people create im­ages and put them into circulation without the interference of adults.

In sharp contrast to Postman’s prediction, childhood never did disappear. Instead, it has become ubiquitous in a new and un­expected way. Today, childhood and adolescence are more visible and pervasive than ever before. For the first time in history, children and adolescents have widespread access to the technologies needed to represent their lives, circulate these representations, and forge networks with each other, often with little or no adult supervision. The potential danger is no longer childhood’s disappearance, but rather the possibility of a perpetual childhood.

Link to the rest at Wired

Here’s the blurb for The End of Forgetting:

Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, our younger selves have been captured and preserved online. But what happens, Kate Eichhorn asks, when we can’t leave our most embarrassing moments behind? Rather than a childhood cut short by a loss of innocence, the real crisis of the digital age may be the specter of a childhood that can never be forgotten.

And here’s a review from Inside Higher Ed:

Someone brought a video recorder to Thanksgiving 1980, during my final year of high school. Not a close relative, certainly. Back then, it was too insanely extravagant a piece of consumer electronics for any of us to imagine buying one. (Not for several years, anyway.)

The camera sat on a tripod and recorded the holiday goings-on, which were shown — continuously, as they were happening — on a nearby television set. It would have been able to record two to four hours, depending on the format and system. A blank video cassette cost the equivalent of $50 to $75 in today’s currency. There was much apprehension over very young family members getting too close and knocking something over.

The novelty of seeing one’s actions and expressions from the outside, in real time, was intriguing but unsettling. Nothing meaningful or interesting happened, and I cannot imagine anybody getting bored enough to watch the recording. But it means that my 17-year-old doppelgänger may be preserved on a tape in an attic someplace in Oklahoma, and that possibility, however slim, has kept the memory vivid. No adolescent photograph would ever be as awkward. The tape was probably Betamax: technological obsolescence can have its upside.

. . . .

Most 17-year-olds today probably do not remember a time when they had not yet seen themselves onscreen. Chances are that many of the videos will have been their own recordings. Creating them requires no technical skill, and duplicating or transporting them is equally effortless.

None of the technology is unwieldy or uncommon, or all that expensive. And while the storage capacity of a phone or laptop is not boundless, neither is it much of an obstacle. Everything ends up in the cloud eventually. (That may not be literally true, but all trends lead in that direction.) “With analogue media,” Eichhorn says, “there is invariably a time lag between the moment of production and the moment of broadcasting; in the case of digital media, production and broadcasting often happen simultaneously or near simultaneously. Adolescents are in effect … experiencing the social world via documentary platform.” And it is a kind of social death when they can’t.

In this cultural ecosystem, the normal excruciations of adolescent self-consciousness are ramped up and acted out — often before an audience of unlimited potential size — then preserved for posterity, in endlessly duplicable form.

. . . .

The potential for embarrassment increased by several orders of magnitude after America’s Funniest Home Videos debuted at the end of 1989, but even that looks minimal in the wake of YouTube. Two or three cases of extreme humiliation and bullying via digital video are now familiar to millions of people.

Eichhorn discusses them while acknowledging the ethical dilemma that doing so runs the risk of perpetuating mindless cruelty. But her point is that the famous examples represent the tip of the iceberg. Digital images are produced and circulated now in ways that encourage the self-expression and experimentation that Erikson regarded as one of the privileges of youth — while at the same time creating a permanent record that is potentially inescapable.

Inescapable, that is, because unforgettable.

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

Over 400 years ago, William Shakespeare famously wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Perhaps the Bard peered into the future and somehow discerned Twitter and Facebook.

It occurs to PG that Twitter and Facebook would have made lovely names for a couple of the fools which populate some of his plays.

This is to make an ass of me, to fright me if they could.

– Bottom, Act 3, Scene 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What You Get Back When You Reclaim Your Time from Social Media

From Medium:

Last fall, in the midst of touring for my latest book, I stepped away from the public stage that arguably made my publishing career possible.

After investing six years into growing my following on Twitter from zero to over 42,000, with millions of monthly engagements, I left the platform, at least for now. This might not sound like such a momentous decision, but it was for me. My 127,000 tweets — an average of 57 tweets per day — had dramatically raised my profile as a writer, sociologist, and scholar on race. The platform prompted countless interactions and conversations, frequent media attention, and valuable professional opportunities — such as connecting me with my literary agent and helping secure a publishing deal for the book I’m still touring with, How to Be Less Stupid About Race.

Yet at the precise moment when most writers would have redoubled their efforts to promote their work, I felt compelled to step down from my bully pulpit and shutter my most successful social media account.

. . . .

Most disconcertingly, even when I wasn’t tweeting, I found myself thinking in tweets — crafting pithy, retweetable observations about my life, social dynamics, and world events to share with my followers as soon as I could get my hot hands on my phone or laptop.

And then I reached a critical breaking point. Crisscrossing the nation for the book tour and connecting with readers in real life was a new, thrilling experience for me, but it was also unspeakably exhausting.

. . . .

While the vast majority of my interactions with folks at book events were uplifting and supportive, I never quite knew what to expect from Q&As. I felt the constant need to mentally prepare for everything from microaggressions to outright hostility.

What I faced most often, however, were the racialized and gendered expectations that I provide on-the-spot emotional processing, counseling, and strategizing for a never-ending stream of racial dilemmas and existential trauma. “How do I deal with my racist cousin?” a white woman would ask, expecting a sensible answer in 60 seconds or less, while a dozen people waited in line behind her. “What should I do about racism on my job?” a man urgently inquired as I signed a copy of the book.

. . . .

But as I struggled to give the fullness of my attention and intention to each and every person who I met on the road, I began to realize that I had little energy left for myself, and no energy at all for Twitter.

I began experiencing debilitating insomnia for the first time in my life. Anxiety became a daily concern.

. . . .

Media technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are quite literally invested in making us internet addicts. They’re effectively manipulating social psychological responses to ensure that our clicks and engagements don’t fizzle — or else their bottom line will. Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s founders, described the platform’s “like” button as “a social validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

. . . .

If it feels difficult to quit social media, it’s because corporate strategists and programmers work very hard to embed their apps with digital carrots that ensure that scrolling through our feed feels deeply rewarding. Facebook “likes,” Twitter “hearts,” and Instagram notifications all drive addictive behavior by doling out intermittent and unpredictable rewards. These rewards, in turn, fuel the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which are associated with the experience of pleasure in the brain.

. . . .

Of course, the sense of community created on social media has many potential benefits when used appropriately and in moderation. But these fleeting digital rewards come at a great price. Social media apps are able to stealthily manipulate our brains into believing that we are experiencing pleasure, despite the fact that heavy usage leads to increased depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and reduced quality of life.

. . . .

“Computer internet businesses are about exploiting psychology… we want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate you as fast as possible and then give you back that dopamine hit. We did that brilliantly at Facebook.” And it’s not just the individual that this affects, he observed: “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

. . . .

As Alex Hern has pointed out in the Guardian, many social media executives and developers have either stopped using their own products or never used them excessively in the first place. Facebook made Palihapitiya a billionaire, but he has said he doesn’t use Facebook himself, and his own children are not allowed to use social media. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, “rarely replies to strangers and avoids discussions or arguments on the site,” Hern wrote. “He doesn’t live-tweet TV shows or sporting fixtures. In fact, he doesn’t really ‘use’ Twitter; he just posts on it occasionally.” Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has an entire team to manage and curate his social media account for him.

. . . .

Emotionally, my mood has greatly improved. I feel less glum, pessimistic, and angry with the world than when I was constantly “connected.” I keep a gratitude journal and count my blessings. While I sometimes miss the creative, intellectual, and political community of my tweethearts, I’m immensely relieved to no longer feel the mental pressure of organizing a social media press conference several times a day in response to trending hashtags, controversies, and tragedies.

Link to the rest at Medium

 

 

These Researchers Are Trying to Keep Facebook Users from Feeling Depressed

From Fortune:

A couple of years ago, a group of researchers at Facebook realized that users felt worse about themselves after incessantly scrolling through their news feeds. The researchers decided to do something about it.

They surveyed Facebook users about their emotional reactions to using the social network. Those findings helped drive one of the biggest changes Facebook has made to date: Showing users more posts from friends and family rather than businesses.

The point was to increase interaction between users, whether commenting or liking posts. The more that people did so, the better they felt, the research found.

The change pushed by Facebook’s little-known well-being team is just one of many issues the group has explored. Its mission is to reduce any negative effects associated with using Facebook, a nearly ubiquitous presence in modern life.

. . . .

The team has a major challenge ahead as it aims to solve a growing conundrum within the tech industry: How to positively impact users’ lives. And over the years, various independent studies have shown that using Facebook can increase depression and make users feel less satisfied with their lives.

A study earlier this year by researchers unaffiliated with Facebook found that people who deactivated their Facebook accounts were happier and more satisfied and felt less anxious and depressed. It was in sharp contrast to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who often brags about Facebook being a critical tool for connecting the world.

. . . .

Similarly, a study by researchers at Yale and the University of California at San Diego published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2017 suggested that the more people used Facebook, the worse their mental health and personal satisfaction.

. . . .

Any suggestion the team makes to Facebook’s management is only that—a suggestion. Facebook’s leaders get the ultimate say about what should be adopted.

And that’s the problem, suggests Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University assistant professor who has studied the problem of policing social media content. Hate speech, violent content, and harassment have become so widespread that Facebook can’t keep up. And while users may complain, Facebook is under no requirement to make any changes to address those problems or any others.

“These are corporate entities, and they’re accountable to their shareholders and their profits,” Grygiel said. “They say that they want to help us—that they are putting processes in place to protect us—but they aren’t and don’t have the resources in place to do that.”

The problem with Facebook’s internal research boils down to one thing, says Grygiel: “Nothing can truly be independent when Mark Zuckerberg is the majority shareholder of the company.”

. . . .

Facebook’s researchers define the term “well-being” as “how people perceive their lives.” Within that scope, they focus on three specific areas: unhealthy amounts of time spent on Facebook, loneliness, and declines in self-worth related to users comparing themselves to others.

“These issues are things that have a deep impact on people lives and have played out on Facebook,” Facebook’s Guadagno said.

. . . .

Well-being also shows up in one of the company’s risk factors in last year’s annual report. Facebook said that its overall business could be harmed if users felt that the social network was negatively affecting their well-being.

“The company has always cared about well-being,” said Chandra Mohan Janakiraman, Facebook’s well-being product manager. “What’s changed is our understanding in terms of the impact our product has had.”

Link to the rest at Fortune

While reading the OP, a thought flitted across PG’s mind (so you have been warned).

Many years ago, large advertising agencies made a great deal of money from their clients who manufactured and sold cigarettes.

A couple of PG’s college friends worked at those agencies. As reported, walking into the head office of a major cigarette company involved seeing large bowls of loose cigarettes (separate bowls for each brand of cigarette) and ample ashtrays wherever one might go in those offices – waiting rooms, conference rooms, break rooms, elevator lobbies, etc. – across multiple floors. Someone was evidently tasked with replenishing the cigarette bowls because they were never empty. Elegant table-top cigarette lighters were close by in case you had forgotten to bring your own.

One of the most consistent messages carried by the advertising across all brands of cigarettes was that smoking made you feel great, enhanced your sense of well-being and was integral to a fulfilling and active social life.

The enjoyable lives of smokers were all wrapped up with cigarettes.

The final quote in the excerpt above, “The company has always cared about well-being . . . . What’s changed is our understanding in terms of the impact our product has had,” resonated like a smoky echo from other large, wealthy and influential businesses in times past.

We’re All Bozos on This Bus: 10 Lessons from 10 Years of Blogging

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Ooops. I seem to have missed my 10-year blogiversary! I posted my first attempt at blogging on Friday, March 13, 2009.

Yes, Friday the 13th. Apparently I have a need to tempt fate.

But I immediately lost the blog for about three months, and didn’t write my second post until June 20, 2009. It was a post on Writers Conferences.

After that, I posted pretty regularly, so I figure today is my real 10-year blogiversary.

I knew pretty much nothing about blogging at that point. I simply wanted a place to put the unpublished columns I had written for Inkwell Newswatch, a Canadian writers’ zine that stopped publication in January 2009.

So after somehow finding the blog again, I fumbled around with Blogger and started posting my unpublished columns on my new blog.

It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t know how.

I settled on putting up weekly posts on Sunday at 10 AM. I can’t remember why. Maybe I pictured my fellow writers relaxing with a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings and surfing the writing blogs the way I did.

Later I read that “the rules” of blogging say that Sunday is the worst day to post to a blog.

But this blog has never followed the rules. And that’s probably the most important of the 10 things I’ve learned:

1) Question Authority

“The rules” will come and go. So will gimmicks and tricks for SEO, ROI, SERP, and LMNOP 🙂 . The only thing that stays the same is the value of good content.

When I started out, “the rules” said a blogpost should be 300 words long and you should blog at least twice a day. Yeah. How many successful authors do you know who do that?

We were also told that an author blog should follow the same rules as a blog about make-up tips for teens or how to make decorative pillows out of dryer lint.

And we were supposed to run advertising all over the site. I remember reading that the #1 failure of new bloggers was “failure to monetize.” (I had to look up the word “monetize.”)

How many successful author blogs are peppered with irrelevant advertising these days?

Also, you needed a niche. You could only blog about jelly doughnuts or training your cat to use the toilet. Otherwise, readers would get confused.

Rule-makers are always underestimating readers. I slowly found out an author can blog about anything. We’re blogging to attract readers who will like our books. So we can write about anything those people would like to read about.

We simply have to make sure that what we say is honest, well-written, and helpful.

. . . .

4) Your Commenters are Your Most Important Asset.

A blog is nothing without readers. And readers who comment are giving you a lovely gift. Even if they disagree with you.

Answering comments quickly and honestly is one of the best ways for a blogger to get commenters coming back. (Although I have to admit I’m going to be away from the computer for a while today. But I will answer all your comments by the end of the day. )

Responding to comments acknowledges your readers as your equals. You’re not supposed to be sitting on a blogthrone waiting to be adored. You’re exchanging ideas with your peers.

I met Ruth Harris as well as two of my publishers when they commented on this blog. Plus I get some of my best ideas for new blogpost topics from the comments here.

. . . .

7) An Author Blog is Not a Business Blog.

Business blogs are for selling stuff. Author blogs are for communication. They’re simply a place for you to get in touch with other writers, readers and potential readers and exchange ideas.

So the most important thing is to be real and entertaining, not hype-y. A blog is a place on the Web where people can come and hang out with you.

Pushy, “buy my book” posts don’t get traffic. And following all those complicated business blog rules will exhaust you and drive away readers. You don’t sell books like cat-carriers or Ginsu knives. Hammering readers by endlessly screaming your title at them does not make people want to relax and hang out with your work. It makes them want to block you.

I’ve watched a lot of author-bloggers give up because they tried to blog so often it became drudgery. An author doesn’t need to blog more than once a week. You want people to read your books, not daily reports of what you had for lunch. Besides, when you’re bored and miserable, your readers will be too.

Have fun with your blog. and when it isn’t fun anymore, take a break.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Doctors Are Braving Social Media to Battle Medical Misinformation

From Medium:

Health misinformation plagues the internet, and it isn’t only anti-vaxxers who buy into it. From influencers peddling useless supplements to fashion publications extolling the virtues of CBD oil face masks, misinformation — while often not malicious — touches most of us. At best, it can waste time and money. At worst, it puts people’s lives at risk.

The question of how best to battle this misinformation, if at all, is a vexing one within the medical community. What responsibility do doctors and other medical professionals have in fighting pseudoscience, particularly online? Some believe doctors should essentially be seen and not heard. A growing contingent of the medical community, however, is choosing to voice their frustration and correct the record on social media. But this comes with some risk, as confronting conspiracy theorists and alternative health moguls can be exhausting and even dangerous.

These medical professionals — doctors, nurses, even health policy lawyers — often differ in their methods, but for the most part they share one goal: to battle the health misinformation that infiltrates every corner of the internet. And while anti-vaxxers, who cluster in private Facebook groups and other closed communities like fervent supporters of some new church, may be beyond the reach of even the savviest doctor online, the rest of us — from those who may have questions about new dermatological treatments to those who aren’t entirely convinced one way or another about vaccines — could stand to benefit from the wisdom of the medical professionals who dare wade into social media’s treacherous waters.

Austin Chiang, a gastroenterologist based in Philadelphia, is the president of the Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM), a new nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate doctors on proper social media use and advocate for it as a crucial tool in the public health toolbox.

. . . .

Patients are getting their medical information from social media and Google — everywhere “except for the clinic visit that they have with us for 30 minutes at a time,” Chiang says. “With every single field out there, there’s something that is misinterpreted or misconstrued by the general public… We want to meet the patient where they are.” Chiang points to the existence and belief in colonic cleanses and detox teas as two issues that plague his own specialty, along with the most commonly known medical misinformation issue, anti-vaxxers.

Doctors need to consider their digital bedside manner as they approach all of this, but there’s a problem. Medical professionals, says Chiang, aren’t taught how to communicate online in an engaging and accessible manner, while the communications teams employed by hospitals and doctor’s offices don’t possess the same medical expertise as the doctors and nurses themselves. “If we aren’t engaged with online discussion, then the conversation is dominated by other people, and who knows where they’re getting their information from,” he says. “There are plenty of docs and nurses online these days, but relatively speaking, compared to the number of health professionals we have out there it’s still a very small minority.”

Link to the rest at Medium

PG wonders if there are any other groups of professionals of whatever profession who are undertaking this sort of task, to battle blatant misinformation online. He is unaware of any group of lawyers who do so, although there are quite a few trustworthy sites that provide reliable legal information on various topics.

Amazon is clapping back at politicians on Twitter

From The Washington Post:

Amazon’s public relations Twitter account is starting to look a lot more like a political rapid response unit as the retailer increasingly becomes a punching bag for Democrats.

The company clapped back yesterday at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and defended its $15 minimum wage for workers after she criticized Amazon chief executive and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos for paying people “starvation wages” in an interview over the weekend.

. . . .

That’s part of a broader pattern: The company has also sought to fact-check statements from 2020 hopefuls in between tweets promoting one-day shipping and its Kindle devices. It disputed former vice president Joe Biden’s comments last week about how much it pays in taxes and pushed back in April on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s criticism of its treatment of competing sellers on its platform.

. . . .

This is a marked change from the traditional tech industry strategy to keep an arms-length from the daily political debate and wait out 24-hour news cycles. But Amazon appears to be realizing that a quiet playbook doesn’t work as the concentration of corporate power becomes a key 2020 issue for Democrats on the campaign trail — who have no qualms with singling out specific companies.

“[Amazon] can’t afford to be passive about it,” said Larry Parnell, an associate professor of strategic public relations at George Washington University. “Corporate America is finding that engaging in the political process — like it or not — is part of doing business.”

. . . .

For Amazon, Twitter could be an avenue to quickly set the record straight when they feel prominent politicians are spreading false information about the company.

“Amazon is simply correcting the record when high-profile candidates or elected officials make statements about the company that are either incorrect or misleading,” said a person familiar with the company’s thinking. “Errors and misunderstandings become accepted truths if they go uncorrected.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG says this is (or should be) basic corporate public relations in 2019. He understands that a great many large well-known business organizations besides Amazon have rapid response teams that operate 24/7 to reply to and/or rebut social media criticism as quickly as possible.

PG would not be surprised if at least some of these teams include both official company spokespeople and those not formally associated with the company but who can also quickly act to generate additional online rebuttal messages. If you’re worried about potentially damaging effects from a Twitter mob, you might want to have your own Twitter mob on call.

Like him and the tone of his communications or not, Donald Trump works social media in a manner that PG thinks is effective (if not tasteful, dignified or suited to the office of the President). His tweets are eminently quotable, make news and frame political discussions. In the online universe, he can’t be ignored or overwhelmed by a digital mob.

Like it or not, Amazon is a large target for criticism from a wide variety of individuals and organizations. It can’t prevent criticism, justified or not, but a rapid response can help prevent an online assault from breaking out into the rest of the world with a lot of momentum.

Anyone who asks, “What does Amazon say about this?” should be able to obtain a quick answer. If Amazon doesn’t have an answer, human nature and mob psychology will assume the company is hiding something that reflects badly upon it.

 

Construction Guy Instagram Influencer Turns out to Be Coffee Ad Stunt

From Petapixel:

A construction guy named Omar in Austin, Texas, became an “Instagram influencer” recently after attracting hundreds of thousands of followers to his @justaconstructionguy account with just a handful of photos. But it turns out the guy was a carefully crafted persona designed to help a small coffee shop sell coffee.

After being created in May, the account shot to Insta-stardom when it was Tweeted out by Twitter user @barbzlovescarbs, who purported to be Omar’s daughter.

In his photos and captions, Omar was apparently an ordinary construction worker who had a knack for poking fun at Instagram’s exploding “influencer” culture:

. . . .

The coffee roaster Cuvée Coffee in Austin finally revealed that the whole thing is actually a clever marketing stunt that resulted from a “creative brainstorming session.”

“The whole idea was what we always thought as an influencer, and what we used as an influencer in the past, they don’t always fit our brand,” owner Mike McKim tells BuzzFeed News. “We need a different type of influencer: a hard-worker, blue-collar guy.”

McKim enlisted the help of the advertising agency Bandolier Media, which helped him to create “Omar”, a fake influencer persona who’s played by an actual Austin-area construction worker. @cuveecoffee is tagged in several of Omar’s posts. After the @barbzlovescarbs Tweet, things just took off, spreading through social media and sites like Reddit.

Link to the rest at Petapixel

175 Good Quotes to Describe Yourself in Facebook Profile

After completing the post that appeared just before this one, PG searched for a pungent quote about Facebook and found a site called Quotemaster.

Quotemaster has an article entitled 175 Good Quotes to Describe Yourself in Facebook Profile.

Here are a few:

I am just a girl looking for my heart.

Be good and shall always see good in everything and everyone and even in yourself.

I want to be your favorite hello and your hardest goodbye.

My daily routine: Get up, Be brilliant, Go back to bed, Repeat.

Behind every deleted facebook & whatsapp account there is untold story in my life..

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

I don’t describe myself as a Christian or religious, but i like to think that how i live my life is honest.

I love the confidence that makeup gives me.

When they say the sky’s the limit to me that’s really true – MICHAEL JACKSON.

I’m just human, I have weakness, I make mistakes and I experience sadness; But I learn from all these things to make me a better person.

I’m not perfect, I make mistakes, I hurt people. But when I say sorry, I really mean it.

I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.

I’m a girl..Don’t touch my hair, face, phone, or boyfriend.

What others think of me is none of my business.

Keep smiling..one day life will get tired of upsetting you.

You can let your smile change people, but don’t let people change your smile.

It’s not your job to like me. It’s mine.

I’m too busy working on my own grass to notice if yours is greener.

Be yourself. There is no one better.

Love yourself first, because that’s who you’ll be spending the rest of your life with.

Surround yourself with makeup not negativity.

Don’t judge me, you don’t know my story.

Be silent and let your success shout.

I take a lot of pride in being myself. I’m comfortable with who I am.

Link to the rest at Quotemaster

PG imagined a character in a book who constantly said things like this.

Overthrow the Prince of Facebook

PG will note that TPV is not and has not been a political blog. PG would like to keep it that way.

PG understands that everything is supposed to be political, etc., but he believes such sentiments are, of themselves, political, and he manages to do a lot of things and have many satisfactory online and offline interactions with others that are simply not political.

While the growth of the internet and the many different ways of accessing it have produced many benefits for humanity, those benefits have been accompanied by some detriments. In PG’s unpresuming opinion, one of the largest is the internet’s ability to enhance and magnify the concerted actions of crazy people.

While at one time it might have been difficult for a single crazy person to connect with others who are crazy in the same way because of the rarity of that person’s particular variety of craziness, now, the internet allows almost anyone to join an online community of people who are exactly like her/him/etc. Cross-dressing differently-abled Lithuanian-American pediatricians can gather online and magnify their voices to fight the injustice that is part of their lives.

Online, everyone can be part of a hyphenated interest group.

PG’s bloviated opining was intended as a brief introduction to a column in today’s Wall Street Journal written by columnist Peggy Noonan, but it grew. [Trigger Warning: Ms. Noonan is a Republican, but not as Republican as a lot of people on the internet believe she should be.]

I’ll start with a personal experience and then try to expand into Republicans and big tech.

In the spring of 2016, Facebook came under pressure, stemming from leaks by its workers, over charges of systemic political bias. I was not especially interested: a Silicon Valley company that employs thousands of young people to make decisions that are often ideological will tilt left, and conservatives must factor that in, as they’re used to doing.

My concerns about Facebook had to do with its apparently monopolistic nature, slippery ethics and algorithmic threats to serious journalism.

Soon after, I received an email from Mark Zuckerberg’s office inviting me and other “conservative activists” to attend a meeting with him to discuss the bias charges in an off-the-record conversation. I responded that I was not an activist but a columnist, for the Journal, and would be happy to attend in that capacity and on the record. That didn’t go over too well with Mr. Zuckerberg’s office! I was swiftly told that wouldn’t do.

What I most remember is that they didn’t mention where his office is. There was an air of being summoned by the prince. You know where the prince lives. In the castle. Who doesn’t know exactly where Facebook is?

In February 2018 Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein of Wired wrote a deeply reported piece that mentioned the 2016 meeting. It was called so that the company could “make a show of apologizing for its sins.” A Facebook employee who helped plan it said part of its goal—they are clever at Facebook and knew their mark!—was to get the conservatives fighting with each other. “They made sure to have libertarians who wouldn’t want to regulate the platform and partisans who would.” Another goal was to leave attendees “bored to death” by a technical presentation after Mr. Zuckerberg spoke.

. . . .

I forgot about it until last summer, when Mr. Zuckerberg’s office wrote again. His problems were mounting. I was invited now, with an unspecified group of others, to “an off the record discussion over dinner at his home in Palo Alto.” They used that greasy greaseball language Silicon Valley uses: Mr. Zuckerberg is “focused on protecting” users and thinking about “the future and how best to serve the Facebook community.”

I ignored the invitation. They pressed. Their last note reached me at an irritated moment, so I wrote back a rocket, reminding him of the previous meeting and how it had been revealed to be a mischievous and highly political enacting of faux remorse. I suggested that though it was an honor to be asked to cross a continent for the privilege of giving him my time, thought and advice, I would not. I added that I was sorry to say he strikes me in his public, and now semiprivate, presentations as an imperious twerp.

For a second I actually hesitated: The imperious twerp runs the algorithms, controls the traffic, has all the dark powers! But I am an American, and one with her Irish up, so I hit send.

And I’m still here, at least at the moment, so I guess that’s OK.

. . . .

I once wrote the signal fact of Mr. Zuckerberg’s career is that he is supremely gifted in one area—monetizing technical ingenuity by marrying it to a canny sense of human weakness.

None of this is news. We just can’t manage to do anything about it.

. . . .

The New York Times this week had a breakthrough report . . . on how the tech giants are fighting back. They are “amassing an army of lobbyists.” Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple spent a combined $55 million in lobbying last year, about double what they spent in 2016. They “have intensified their efforts to lure lobbyists with strong connections to the White House, the regulatory agencies, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress.” Facebook hired Mrs. Pelosi’s former chief of staff. The speaker herself has received major campaign money from employees and political-action committees of all the tech giants.

. . . .

But the mood in America is anti-big-tech. Everyone knows they’re too powerful, too arrogant, loom too large in public life.

And something else: This whole new world of new technology was born in the 1970s and ’80s. We still think it’s new and we’re figuring it out, but we’re almost half a century into it and we can see what works and what doesn’t, what’s had good effects and hasn’t. It is time to move.

. . . .

Here’s what [Washington politicians] should be thinking: Break them up. Break them in two, in three; regulate them. Declare them to be what they’ve so successfully become: once a pleasure, now a utility.

It all depends on Congress, which has been too stupid to move in the past and is too stupid to move competently now. That’s what’s slowed those of us who want reform, knowing how badly they’d do it.

Yet now I find myself thinking: I don’t care. Do it incompetently, but do something.

. . . .

The Times quoted Republican Sen. Josh Hawley as saying “the dominance of big tech” is a “big problem.” They “may be more socially powerful than the trusts of the Roosevelt era, and yet they still operate like a black box.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG knows some indie authors have had good results from their social media book promotions and he applauds their skill, creativity and generosity for sharing their best online practices with other authors. In such cases, PG’s impression is that the authors are using the social media platforms rather than the other way around. Readers benefit by receiving information they would like to receive about books written by some of their favorite authors.

PG is probably some sort of social media snob, but he rarely uses social media to receive any information. (Because Crazy People) However, he’s a compulsive early adopter, so in days past, when he heard about a new social media platform, he signed up and checked it out. After 3-4 visits, he usually was bored by the content and quit checking in. (As a result, he has some four and five character social media user IDs that might be valuable if he could sell them.)

These days, PG uses social media strictly as an outbound communication device to provide information he thinks might be beneficial to people who like to receive information via this channel. To this end, he has a plug-in for TPV that automatically produces a row of colorful little icons below each post that should make it easy for any visitor to repost/forward any of the TPV posts to their own social media accounts and is happy to have anyone use them to do so. To avoid charges of false altruism, PG is also happy if some of these reposts result in more visitors to TPV.

Of all the major social media platforms, PG formerly signed on to Facebook the most frequently (1-2 times per month) to keep up with a handful of old friends/relatives who would occasionally post news and photos there. However, for the reasons Ms. Noonan describes – Facebook’s breaching of privacy and ethical boundaries – PG closed his account several months ago.

A Loss for Words No More: Caption Any Photo Will Fill in Your Blank Slates

From Social Media Week:

I’m sure that when they were first composing captions for their Student Government Association at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Ja’Bre Jennings and Juwon Nicholson couldn’t have imagined they’d one day build a business around the snappy words they’d add to photos. But only a few years later, they’re garnering good buzz for their app, Caption Any Photo , designed to share their talents with the masses.

Caption Any Photo was born in an MBA class Jennings was taking; he developed the app as part of an assignment. But once the project was completed, he realized the idea had legs. Calling upon his friend and business partner, they did market research with college students, touring the East Coast during homecoming season to ask attendees how they felt about the app, if they’d use it, and how to improve it.

What resulted from this unconventional market research was an app that can help caption photos in categories like Homecoming, Girls’ Night Out, Selfies, Mardi Gras, and many more. At present, a combination of user submissions and captions developed with machine learning and data analytics has created a database of over 35,000 captions. But they have their sights set higher than their initial college student market; they’re now hoping to assist solopreneurs and small businesses increase engagement in ways that affect their bottom line.

“A lot of businesses were having a lack of engagement due to not knowing what to post. Once you find the photo, we give you the quote and caption to actually let you post to social media and increase engagement,” Jennings said to Blavity. These captions, when deployed thoughtfully, can drive people to needed products or services – something Jennings and Nicholson learned when doing social media work previously for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. There, they realized that captions are more than just a way to make friends laugh or express yourself; they could be key to driving users toward much needed but occasionally stigmatized services.

Link to the rest at Social Media Week

You can find Caption Any Photo in Apple’s IOS App Store.

Although PG may have overlooked it in the Caption Any Photo website, but it appears that, at present, you can’t match images and captions on a computer (although PG understands most social media pros (not the celebrities or other clients they work for) don’t create most of the image/caption combinations they use on Pinterest, Instagram, etc., on their phones because it’s faster to do it on a computer), so he created a faux Instagram post by combining an image with a Caption Any Photo caption he got on his phone.

 

Fact-Checking Can’t Do Much When People’s “Dueling Facts” Are Driven by Values Instead of Knowledge

As PG has mentioned more than one time before, The Passive Voice is not a blog about politics and PG intends to keep it that way. There is no shortage of online locations that will provide political commentary in all shades from the darkest Blue to the brightest Red to some other color PG has not yet learned about.

However, TPV is about writing and a great deal of writing these days is either comprised of or about misinformation. Public or private debate about the meaning or impact of facts that each side agrees are real is, to PG’s way of thinking, a useful exercise.

However, debate in which each side has a different set of facts about the same events may not be so useful. As Daniel Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Yesterday’s post on this issue generated a lot of detailed and, at least for PG, interesting comments.

As to the connection of the following article to writing, PG suggests that the Internet has vastly increased both reading and writing by a far wider range of individuals than has been the case in times before the Internet.

A tweet is not a novel, but it definitely is writing with its own style and impact.

Twitter reports that more than 6,000 tweets are sent each second. Each tweet may be read by no one or thousands of people (sometimes more). In Q1 2019, Twitter reported that an average of 134 million people used Twitter every day and could see Twitter ads.

In its financial reporting, Twitter reports Average monetizable DAU (mDAU), Monetizable Daily Active Usage or Users. Monetizable means users who access via means that permit Twitter to show them advertisements. Many more tweets are read by people who see the tweet copied to a website or email, but are not included in mDAU.

It seems that almost everyone is a news reporter in some way and, when it is impossible for an individual to know everything that is happening in the worlds, real and virtual, she/he has to choose who and what to consume.

Because it is impossible to read everything, of necessity, everyone can and does curate their information by eliminating the overwhelming majority of the words floating around the Internet, regardless of whether those words describe true things or not. In some places online, white is white. Elsewhere, white is black. It’s all about the words.

In former times, large cities supported multiple daily newspapers that were well-known for their political leanings. In Chicago, The Chicago Tribune was known for its conservative views. In New York, The New York Times was reliably liberal. Someone who wanted to examine what would likely be a balanced view on a topic might read both newspapers to understand the arguments of each side.

There were other publications which promoted more extreme views on the left or right (or some other side) of such issues, but a great many people believed, rightly or wrongly, that such publications could not be trusted to report facts accurately or base their opinions on facts at all.

From The Nieman Lab:

The Mueller report was supposed to settle, once and for all, the controversy over whether the Trump team colluded with Russians or obstructed justice. Clearly, it has not. Reactions to the report have ranged from “Total exoneration!” to “Impeach now!”

Shouldn’t nearly 700 hundred pages of details, after almost two years of waiting, have helped the nation to achieve a consensus over what happened? Well, no. As Goethe said in the early 1800s, “Each sees what is present in their heart.”

Since 2013 — long before Donald Trump was even a candidate — we have been studying the “dueling facts” phenomenon: the tendency for Red and Blue America to perceive reality in starkly different ways. Based on that work, we expected the report to settle…next to nothing.

The conflicting factual assertions that have emerged since the report’s release highlight just how easy it is for citizens to believe what they want — regardless of what Robert Mueller, William Barr or anyone else has to say about it.

Our research has led us to several conclusions about the future of political discourse in the U.S. The first is that dueling fact perceptions are rampant, and they are more entrenched than most people realize. Some examples of this include conflicting perceptions about the existence of climate change, the strength of the economy, the consequences of racism, the origins of sexual orientation, the utility of minimum wage increases or gun control, the crime rate and the safety of vaccines.

This has serious implications for American democracy. As political scientists, we wonder: How can a community decide the direction they should go if they can’t agree on where they are? Can people holding dueling facts be brought into some semblance of consensus?

To figure that out, it’s important to determine where such divergent beliefs come from in the first place. This is the perspective we began with: If dueling fact perceptions are driven by misinformation from politicians and pundits, then one would expect things to get better by making sure that people have access to correct information — via fact-checking by news organizations, for example.

We envisioned the dueling facts phenomenon as being primarily tribal, driven by cheerleading on each side for their partisan “teams.” We assumed, like most other scholars, that individuals are simply led astray by their team’s coaches (party leaders), star players (media pundits), or fellow fans (social media feeds).

But it turns out that the roots of such divergent views go much deeper. We found that voters see the world in ways that reinforce their values and identities — irrespective of whether they have ever watched Fox News or MSNBC and regardless of whether they have a Facebook account.

For example, according to our data from five years of national surveys from 2013 to 2017, the most important predictor of whether a person views racism as highly prevalent and influential is not her partisan identification. It is not her general ideological outlook. It is not the amount or type of media that she consumes. It isn’t even her own race.

It is the degree to which she prioritizes compassion as a public virtue, relative to other things like rugged individualism.

Values not only shape what people see, but they also structure what people look for in the first place. We call this “intuitive epistemology.”

Those who care about oppression look for oppression — so they find it.

Those who care about security look for threats to it — and they find them.

In other words, people do not end up with the same answers because they do not begin with the same questions.

For example, the perception that vaccines cause autism — against all available empirical evidence — is now shared equally by Democrats and Republicans. Partisanship can’t account for that dueling fact perception. But when we looked at the role of core values and their associated questions, we found the strongest predictor.

If someone we surveyed ranked this question highly — Does it appear that people are committing indecent acts or degrading something sacred? — they were by far the most likely to believe that vaccines are dangerous. Partisan identity had no relationship at all with those beliefs. Because the starting points for different groups of citizens are deeply polarized, so are their ending points. And the starting points are often values rather than parties.

The stronger those commitments to their values are, the stronger the effects. Those with extreme value commitments are much more certainthan others that their perceptions are correct.

Perhaps the most disappointing finding from our studies — at least from our point of view — is that there are no known fixes to this problem.

Fact-checking tends to fall flat. The voters who need to hear corrections rarely read fact-checks. And for those who might stumble across them, reports from distant and distrusted experts are no match for closely held values and defining identities.

Link to the rest at The Nieman Lab

Your Google Data Is Getting the Auto-Delete Tool It Always Needed

From Fast Company:

While Google has spent years insisting that users are in control of their privacy, it’s never given users a way to wipe old data automatically. If you wanted to keep Google from building up a lifetime of personal information without opting out of personalized features entirely, you had to remind yourself to delete the data on your own.

That’s about to change: Google will soon introduce an auto-delete function to its account activity page. This will give users the option to delete old searches, location history, and other activity, either after three months or a year and a half. Google says the auto-delete feature will roll out “in the coming weeks.”

Google’s tendency to save everything indefinitely was the subject of a recent New York Times investigation, which found that police are using Google’s location database to trawl for potential crime suspects, and sometimes ensnaring innocent people in the process. A wave of stories on how to disable Google’s location tracking followed.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG says some people have been regularly creating new Google accounts while abandoning old ones due to Google’s collect-and-hold-everything practices.

PG regularly uses several Google accounts for different purposes as a simpler method of just about accomplishing the same thing.

If you would like to do something like this or just start a new Google (or Facebook, etc.) account every few weeks, PG recommends getting a password manager like LastPass, 1Password or Dashlane to keep track of multiple account names and passwords. The last time PG checked each of these organizations offered a completely useful free version that you could upgrade into a paid account with more bells and whistles.

 

Facebook Ban

From CNN:

Facebook announced Thursday afternoon that it had designated some high-profile people, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who’s notorious for using anti-Semitic language, and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, as “dangerous” and said it will be purging them from its platforms.

Jones and his media outlet InfoWars had previously been banned from Facebook in August 2018, but had maintained a presence on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. On Thursday, Jones and InfoWars will be barred from Instagram as well.

Other people banned on Thursday included Paul Nehlen, an anti-Semite who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 and 2018, and fringe right-wing media personalities Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN Business. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

Link to the rest at CNN

Facebook Gets a New Look

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. rolled out a substantial redesign of its website and mobile app, geared partly toward steering users to participate in more group conversations as the company strives to reduce abusive content and the scrutiny resulting from it.

. . . .

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview that the changes unveiled Tuesday mark the most significant alteration to Facebook’s core platform in years and are part of a larger effort to offer less-public ways of communicating. The company also made its video- and photo-heavy feature Stories more prominent in the redesign, building on the popularity of similar features in its sister app, Instagram.

. . . .

In addition to the removal of the blue banner and a generally lighter color scheme, hundreds of smaller details have been altered to reflect “that groups are at the heart of the app, not just friends,” he said.

. . . .

Mr. Zuckerberg positioned the latest redesign as part of a broad rethinking of Facebook’s product design, priorities and even values that he has touted publicly over the last two months. In early March, he said the company would focus on more private communications, embracing encrypted and ephemeral messaging across its products and guiding its Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram platforms toward similar sets of features.

Weeks later, Mr. Zuckerberg began championing a global approach to internet regulation, declaring decisions about content on Facebook’s platforms too important to leave to the company.

Facebook is cultivating Groups as it shifts toward relying more on users to help police content and prevent harassment. Group administrators, not Facebook, are already front-line moderators of behavior within their often closed forums. The company is adding new resources, including a tool that flags violations of Facebook standards within the group for moderators, said Fidji Simo, the recently appointed head of the Facebook App.

Expanding the role of users in policing behavior on Facebook could relieve some pressure on the company to do so—after it has spent billions of dollars in recent years to hire contract moderators and build artificial-intelligence systems to screen for abusive content.

One risk of encouraging like-minded users to connect and discuss shared passions in groups is the potential for forums that share misinformation to blossom further. Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook would discourage users from gravitating toward such groups by making them less prominent. “If people really seek it out on their own, fine,” he said of existing Facebook groups that promote conspiracy theories. “But part of our responsibility is to make sure we don’t recommend groups that share misinformation.”

There may be more to work out. A search for “cancer” in the Groups section shows one of the top recommendations is a “Cancer Cures & Natural Healing Research” group, which lists 96,000 members and claims pharmaceutical companies are suppressing natural cancer treatments to maintain their profits.

“The US government poisons babies, practically from birth,” an administrator of the group wrote in a Monday post, falsely alleging links between fluoride and autism in children, saying the government’s support of fluoridated water “goes light years beyond terrorism” and “will cause your baby’s brain to turn into mush.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry about the paywall)

Facebook Hires Top State Department Lawyer

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. is bringing on a new top lawyer and a communications boss to handle the mounting regulatory and public-relations issues facing the social-media giant.

The company named Jennifer Newstead as its general counsel on Monday, putting a longtime Washington attorney in charge of its legal affairs at a time when it is increasingly engaged with regulators around the world about how best to police social media.

The company separately named John Pinette, who previously advised Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates among other jobs, to be the new vice president of global communications.

. . . .

The moves help restock Facebook’s leadership in the levels below Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. A number of senior officials and department heads have left Facebook over the past year, an unusual rate of turnover after the executive team was relatively stable for most of its tenure as a public company. (emphasis supplied)

Facebook in October hired former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to be its global head of policy and communications.

. . . .

Mr. Stretch, who led the company’s legal response to Russian political interference on Facebook’s platform during the 2016 election, stayed on longer amid high-profile questions last year about how the company handled user data.

Before her most recent stint in government, Ms. Newstead was a partner at Davis, Polk & Wardwell LLP handling cross-border regulatory matters. She also previously served as an attorney in the George W. Bush administration and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. She is credited with writing portions of the Patriot Act, which expanded law enforcement’s ability to conduct surveillance in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

First, Zuckerberg starts spending lots of time in Washington DC, now many of the people most responsible for Facebook’s current online dominance are headed for the door.

PG suggests that sound you hear is the air going out of Facebook’s creative balloon.

When a company lawyers up with establishment types, avoiding mistakes tends to become the company’s primary focus, lots of things slow down and the opportunities for innovative startups to eat the giant’s lunch increase a thousandfold.

UPDATE:

From The Washington Post:

Sri Lanka’s social media shutdown illustrates global discontent with Silicon Valley

The Sri Lankan government’s decision to shutter access to social media sites after Sunday’s deadly bombings may mark a turning point in how countries around the world perceive Silicon Valley — and their willingness to act to stop the spread of falsehoods online.

A decade ago, Facebook, Twitter and their social media peers helped spearhead pro-democracy uprisings that toppled dictators throughout the Middle East, and their services were seen as a way to help in catastrophes, allowing authorities a vehicle to convey crucial information and organize assistance.

Today, though, those same social media sites appear to some as a force that can corrode democracy as much as promote it, spreading disinformation to an audience of millions in a matter of minutes and fueling ethnic violence before authorities can take steps to stop it. That sense is heightened by tech giants’ seeming inability to strike a balance between free expression and protecting the public from harm.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

 

Zuckerberg’s Regulation Proposal Distracts from the Solvable Problems on His Platform – like Piracy

From Creative Future:

On March 30, in an op-ed published in The Washington Post, the man who once coined the phrase “Move fast and break things” made a very public about-face. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for the internet to be regulated.

“Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks,” Zuckerberg wrote. “But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone.”

Seemingly, this was a watershed moment. A concession by an online giant, after years of arguing precisely the opposite, that maybe it isn’t well-equipped to solve the problems it itself had created. That the time had come, Zuckerberg continued, for “a more active role for governments and regulators.”

. . . .

Perhaps because we have heard it all before, we are skeptical of Zuckerberg’s big proclamation. Or perhaps we are just not that impressed by the sight of a CEO worth billions pleading for the government to step in and clean up his mess. Or perhaps, as some have suggested, there are even more sinister forces at play here.

. . . .

“By draping his essay in the guise of cooperation, Zuckerberg hopes to distract policymakers from the real threat,” wrote Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor who has morphed into one of its fiercest critics. “Internet platforms like Facebook and Google dominate the public square in every country in which they operate… No one elected these companies and they refuse to be held accountable. That must change.”

Zuckerberg’s pining for a uniform set of rules to govern his public square seems like a grand gesture toward a kind of formal accountability – but the truth is, it is yet another opportunity for him to shirk responsibility. In the piece, he calls for a “globally harmonized framework,” which sounds nice but is an absurdly unrealistic goal. Can you think of a single thing that is “harmonized” across the world’s nearly 200 existing national governments, subject to a consistent set of regulatory guidelines that every country honors and upholds? Why would something as massively complicated as the entire internet be any different?

. . . .

Exacerbating this delusion, Zuckerberg recommends his proposed regulation formulate around not one, not two, but four primary concerns: “harmful content, election integrity, privacy, and data portability.” Any one of these concerns on their own would pose a logistical nightmare around which to legislate. If Zuckerberg’s plan is to wait for the nearly 200 existing national governments to come together around all of them, he’s going to be waiting a long time – which is precisely his plan. The buck officially passed, he can now sit back and continue doing what he has been doing – evading any “meaningful” regulation until the world finally agrees on his impossibly lofty set of regulatory ideals.

In essence, Zuckerberg has presented us with a fantasy, offering little in the way of specifics and leaving out other, equally crucial regulatory categories entirely – such as unfair competition and market monopolization within the internet industry. It is not surprising, of course, that Zuckerberg does not want to talk about antitrust, but shouldn’t his list at least include the regulation of artificial intelligence – the force behind the algorithms that steer and essentially control our online lives? Or what about CreativeFuture’s core issue of piracy, an internet plague that affects the livelihoods of millions of people?

Link to the rest at Creative Future

PG thinks part of Zuckerberg’s reason for making this suggestion is that Facebook and similar companies are rich with financial and human resources and have the ability to adjust to government regulation and take legal steps to fight or blunt regulations that might be harmful to Facebook.

PG suggests that Zuckerberg’s biggest fear is that another Mark Zuckerberg is laboring in obscurity, working on an idea that will make Facebook obsolete almost overnight.

Like all startups, The hypothetical Bane of Facebook faces many hurdles and obstructions. Even a much better idea is not enough to guarantee success. Financing becomes necessary, hiring the right people early on is very important.

If you add a requirement to comply with complex government regulations in each country where the startup wants to be available online, that might be a bridge too far for a potential Facebook killer. Violating a law no one inside the startup has never heard of can bring a deluge of bad publicity and an avalanche of legal costs.

Copyright and Plagiarism in the Age of Memes

From Plagiarism Today:

Back in March, comedian Miel Bredouw found herself in a very public battle with the site Barstool Sports. According to her, the site has reposted a video she had created two years prior and did so without attribution or permission.

According to Bredouw, she filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice and got the video removed but Barstool Sports responded by first offering her increasing amounts of money to rescind the notice and with a campaign of harassment.

But after Barstool filed a counter-notice to get the video restored, Bredouw went public with her story and highlighted much of the communication that that had been exchanged.

As the story began to get attention, Barstool Sports deleted over 60,000 of its social media posts, purging over 70% of its Twitter history. The move was likely in a bid to head off future DMCA notices, which could have resulted in the account being suspended.

The site also tweeted saying that it was the “old Barstool” and that they were committed to change.

. . . .

However, it doesn’t seem that Barstool Sports fully learned from the incident. Today news is coming out that Barstool Sports has been accused yet again of content theft. This time it was a gif of a blue monster that’s owned by artist Ben Rubin that was used in Barstool Sports’ Snapchat story.

Though Rubin did not face the same harassment that Bredouw did, Rubin was forced to file a DMCA notice to get the clip removed. Barstool admitted to taking the image out of Giphy, where it can still be found.

However, Barstool Sports is far from alone in facing these issues. In fact, they aren’t even the biggest name in meme content theft.

. . . .

All of this begs an interesting question: If Jerry Media and Barstool Sports have been lifting memes and gifs for years, why is it suddenly a big issue now?

Some of it, most likely, is as simple as awareness breeding more awareness. Jerry Media brought much of the scrutiny on itself with its Fyre documentary and that attention gave people the chance to raise old grievances to a new audience and raise the broader issue in the public’s mind.

However, it’s likely more than that.

One reason is that memes have become big business. Back in 2016 FuckJerry was estimated to get around $30,000 per sponsored post. It’s a hefty haul for simply reuploading other people’s creations.

Re-sharing memes, with or without attribution, has traditionally been seen as a strictly non-commercial act. Sure, people might be uploading content without permission, but no dollars were thought to be changing hands. As a result, people largely tolerated it.

An exception to that came in 2015 involving Josh Ostrovsky, better known as the Fat Jew, was caught stealing jokes for his Instagram. Ostrovsky, at the time, was lined up for a show on Comedy Central but those plans were cancelled after the scandal.

But that’s been one of the big changes. In 2015 Ostrovsky was seen as an oddity for being able to parlay his meme-finding skills into a lucrative career, today it’s well-understood that many meme accounts are getting extremely wealthy. This has led to a pushback from the artists who create the original works while toiling in relative obscurity.

In short, the awareness isn’t just of the worst actors. It’s of the industry at large. Creators are aware of how they’re being exploited and are fighting back against it. To that end, the best weapon they have is the DMCA takedown, not only because it’s free, fast and easy to file, but the law obligates hosts to terminate the accounts of users that accumulate too many.

That, ultimately, is why companies like Barstool Sports and Jerry Media fear content creators.

Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today

 

Instagram Memers Are Unionizing

From The Atlantic:

Instagram memers have had enough.

They generate the engagement that helps keep Instagram growing—but, they argue, the multibillion-dollar platform doesn’t pay them for their work, or give them any control. So they’re fighting back. And before you write off IG Meme Union Local 69-420 as a joke, the organizers of the collective would like you to know that they are very serious.

“Solidarity actions with memers. Memers of the world unite,” the Instagram page for the union reads, encouraging followers to “seize the memes of production.”

The IG Meme Union will probably never be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, but organizers say it can still act as a union for all intents and purposes. “We’re calling it a union and doing union-organizing tactics,” Paul Praindo, a representative of the organizing committee, told me. “We stand in firm support of others who are working to organize anti-labor industries. We think these movements mark the beginning of a labor renaissance.” Some other “unions” function this way: The Freelancers Union, for instance, doesn’t have a formal management structure to negotiate with, but does advocate collectively for independent workers.

Similarly, the IG Meme Union, which is currently taking applications through an online form, hopes to negotiate better working conditions for memers who say they have been exploited by Instagram and other tech platforms for too long. “People are doing a lot of work, doing it for free or little compensation, or not recognized for the work they’re doing,” Praindo said. “All these people are bringing revenue to Instagram, producing this major profit margin for this

. . . .

“We as content creators want to have worker protections,” Praindo said. “Even if you’re producing funny pictures of Shrek, that should not determine whether you’re taken seriously as a creator or your livelihood is imperiled at the drop of a hat … We are a meme union; the whole point of it is to work for protections for other content creators.”

. . . .

A few things the IG Meme Union wants: a more open and transparent appeals process for account bans; a direct line of support with Instagram, or a dedicated liaison to the meme community; and a better way to ensure that original content isn’t monetized by someone else. “Having a public and clear appeal process is a big thing,” Praindo said. “People appeal now and get turned down, and they won’t know why.

. . . .

Memers represent a burgeoning sector of the labor force that currently has no job security or formal protection. “If you’re spending all your time as a Twitch broadcaster or creating memes, that is work,” says John Ahlquist, an associate professor at the University of San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, who has done research on the changing nature of work. “People that are trying to earn a living on these platforms are recognizing how vulnerable they are on an individual basis with respect to the platform, and so they’re turning to this tried-and-true model of collective action.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG is not an expert on labor law, but he wonders if there is any real solution residing in a labor union when so many people are willing to post to Instagram with no financial compensation.

If the Memers want to organize, offering to their collective talents elsewhere (PG doesn’t know enough about Instagram’s competitors – if any, to point out a possible alternative) or setting up a competing meme/image site (he understands you don’t recreate Instagram overnight) might be a more effective response.

Another question popped into PG’s mind – Is Patreon a possibility for Instagram stars?

Americans Hate Social Media but Can’t Give It Up

From The Wall Street Journal:

Americans have a paradoxical attachment to the social-media platforms that have transformed communication, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds, saying they regard services such as Facebook to be divisive and a threat to privacy but continue to use them daily.

Across age groups and political ideologies, adults in the survey said they held a negative view of the effects of social media—even though 70% use such services at least once a day.

. . . .

The deep-dive survey into views of technology draws a picture of Americans struggling personally with their social-media habits and looking for more supervision of social-media companies by the federal government. Pollsters said they were surprised by the high and relatively uniform dissatisfaction with social media across demographic and political groups.

“If we saw this same, strongly negative force of opinion—spanning partisanship and age—stacked against any one of our corporate clients, I think they would certainly be concerned about their standing in the marketplace and in the halls of Congress,” said Micah Roberts, a Republican pollster

. . . .

The findings about social media show that “people are kind of struggling with how to handle it from a self-regulation point of view and how we regulate it as a country,’’ said Jeff Horwitt, a Democratic pollster

. . . .

While they take a skeptical view of social-media companies like Facebook and Twitter,  Americans have favorable views of Amazon, Alphabet Inc.’s . . . Google unit and Apple, though they have little faith in the ability of these three tech giants to protect their personal data.

. . . .

[A]lmost three quarters of respondents said they believe the trade-off that underpins the huge sector—consumers receiving free services but giving up detailed data about their online behavior—is unacceptable.

And a solid majority of respondents said social-media services such as Facebook and Twitter do more to divide Americans than bring them together.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (stock symbols and less-familiar formal names omitted or shortened)

Facebook Says It Left ‘Hundreds of Millions’ of Users’ Passwords Stored in Plain Text

From The Washington Post:

Facebook on Thursday said that it had left “hundreds of millions” of users’ passwords exposed in plain text, potentially visible to the company’s employees, marking another major privacy and security headache for a tech giant already under fire for mishandling people’s personal information.

Facebook said it believed the passwords were not visible to anyone outside the company and had no evidence that its employees “internally abused or improperly accessed them.” But it said it would notify users of Facebook as well as its photo-sharing site, Instagram, that they had been affected.

The incident was first revealed by the Krebs on Security blog, which estimated the total number of affected users ranged between 200 million and 600 million. Facebook declined Thursday to confirm the estimate.

. . . .

Like most companies, Facebook said it stores passwords using a technique called hashing that’s supposed to make them unreadable. But a security review in January, detailed in a blog post Thursday, found they were actually stored in a readable format, a problem Facebook said it has since fixed. Most affected were users of Facebook Lite, the company said, a stripped-down version of the social network that’s largely in use in countries with lower Internet-connection speeds.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG wonders if there is any manner in which Facebook can’t screw up.

Taming Facebook, Google and Amazon

From The Wall Street Journal:

 The internet, the web, all things digital are officially in beta. Because they’re in beta, everything is forgiven—there is absolution for the infelicities, the flaws and the wrongs, intended and unintended. Here we are in the midst of e-evolution, looking for a moral and intellectual GPS at a time when our phone is supposed to measure heartbeat, steps walked, stairs climbed and hours slept, but gives no true sense of perspective or place. Yet there is an awakening, and we are on the cusp of a reckoning.

. . . .

Almost 12 years ago, as editor of the Times of London, I testified to a House of Lords committee: “Facts are incidental if not accidental, and the problem that we have as a society is that there is a significant number of people who have grown up in a different information environment . . . surrounded by much more information, but whose provenance is not clear. . . . The rumors will be believed; the fiction will be thought of as fact; and the political agendas, among other agendas, will be influenced by interest groups who are coming from some quite strange trajectory to issues based on collective understanding that is founded on falsity.”

The digital world has brought manifold benefits, but it shouldn’t surprise us that there are problems with provenance and opportunities for bad actors to damage democracies.

. . . .

A few facts about the media: Some 1,800 U.S. newspapers have closed in the past 15 years. An industry that employed 412,000 people in 2001 declined to 166,000 in 2017. Have the digital natives succeeded where the traditional titles have failed? No. In recent weeks, BuzzFeed, Vice, the Verizon digital properties and others laid off more than 2,100.

The creators are still being slain by the distributors, who are publishers, though they find it hard to pronounce the word. If you are intervening to filter out offensive material, you’re editing, and if you are editing, you should aspire to be a great editor, not selective and reactive but proactive.

. . . .

There is generally an understanding in business that connections lead to partnerships, which lead to relationships with responsibilities. But digital partnerships quickly descended into abusive relationships—serial cheating, digital denials, haughtiness, smugness, playing content creators for suckers. Allowing rampant piracy, sometimes actually encouraging it, was at the core of the business model for some.

. . . .

I’ll highlight one more egregious example—the Amazon Book Summary. These are blatant rip-offs, unauthorized bastardizations of best sellers that sometimes use the same cover art and for which authors and publishers receive no compensation. Amazon leveraged these unauthorized summaries by including them in its Kindle Unlimited and “Audible” subscription services. After complaints from publishers, the company promised to take action—but complaint compliance is not a sustainable strategy for Amazon, Facebook or Google.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG just searched Amazon Books for “Summary” and he was appalled at what he found.

Total Number of Twitter Users Worldwide

.

PG was an early adopter of Twitter and an early unadopter of Twitter.

For him, the Prime/Slime ratio was all wrong and he was not as amused by 99.99% of Twitter users as they were amused by themselves.

PG recognizes that others will have different experiences and information preferences. However, the chart above indicates to PG that Twitter is experiencing a high churn rate. A bit of quick-and-dirty research shows this may be the case:

From Verto (2017 information):

[F]or any digital company, an often-overlooked number is churn rate: the percentage rate at which users of a given service leave that service from one time period to the next. That is to say, it’s the percentage or number of consumers that a given company loses over time.

. . . .

[B]oth Snapchat and the ailing Twitter show churn rates of around 25%, meaning that both platforms have lost nearly a quarter of their user base between Q3 and Q4 2016.

. . . .

While churn is not necessarily a bad thing for all businesses, a high churn rate compared to your competitors can be a troubling sign. For social media and advertising platforms, it can suggest a lack of engagement and loyalty among the user base – and increased consumer dissatisfaction with the platform at large.

Link to the rest at Verto

There is also the question of Twitter bots:

A Twitter bot is a type of bot software that controls a Twitter account via the Twitter API. The bot software may autonomously perform actions such as tweeting, re-tweeting, liking, following, unfollowing, or direct messaging other accounts. The automation of Twitter accounts is governed by a set of automation rules that outline proper and improper uses of automation. Proper usage includes broadcasting helpful information, automatically generating interesting or creative content, and automatically replying to users via direct message.

. . . .

Twitter bots are estimated to create approximately 24% of tweets that are on Twitter.

. . . .

One significant academic study estimated that up to 15% of Twitter users were automated bot accounts.

. . . .

A subset of Twitter bots programmed to complete social tasks played an important role in the United States 2016 Presidential Election. Researchers estimated that pro-Trumpbots generated four tweets for every pro-Clinton automated account and out-tweeted pro-Clinton bots 7:1 on relevant hashtags during the final debate. Deceiving Twitter bots fooled candidates and campaign staffers into retweeting misappropriated quotes and accounts affiliated with incendiary ideals.

. . . .

The majority of Twitter accounts following public figures and brands are often fake or inactive, making the number of Twitter followers a celebrity a difficult metric for gauging popularity.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

If you Google free twitter followers, PG will point out another element of Twitter. You can pay to become a big shot on Twitter. On the internet, one of PG’s expectations is that whenever something is free, there is a paid version that works evey better.

From iag.me:

Looking to buy Twitter Followers? Or maybe followers onFacebook, Instagram or another social network?

Let me ask you…

What’s more important, 10,000 fans or followers, or 100 who will actually engage with you?

It seems this question isn’t asked too often by a number of people running social media channels who opt to buy their followers in order to boost their numbers.

. . . .

There are plenty of services out there which claim to boost your numbers. Many say they can boost your numbers quickly. Some services offer to do this for free and some require payment.  There are a number of different methods that they can employ.

  1. Aggressive Following Technique. (Twitter Only) By following a large number of people each day, waiting for them to follow you, then unfollow those who don’t follow you back it is possible to artificially increase your followers very quickly. This goes against Twitter’s terms and conditions and so is definitely to be avoided. There is nothing wrong with following or unfollowing a large number of people every now and again, but if Twitter think you are aggressively trying to increase your followers by follower/unfollower churn methods, you are likely to get your account suspended. Note- a service will need you to give permission for it to access your Twitter account in order to follow Twitter accounts
  2. Zombie Account Following. (Facebook & Twitter) By paying a 3rd party you can get 100s, 1000s of even 10,000s of followers or likes. Generally each supplier has a database of twitter or Facebook “zombie” accounts that they can use to follow or like you. These are usually completely inactive accounts, sometimes with random names with jumbled up letters and numbers.

Link to the rest at iag.me

.

Kim Kardashian Sues U.K. Online Retailer Claiming Violation of Right of Publicity

From The 1709 Blog:

Kim Kardashian is suing U.K. fast fashion online retailer Missguided and its U.S. subsidiary for trademark infringement and violation of her right of publicity. The case is Kimsaprincess, Inc.; and Kim Kardashian West v. Missguided USA (Finance) Inc., and Missguided Limited, 2:19-cv-01258 (C.D.Cal).

The complaint alleges that the inexpensive and fast fashion retailer is using Kim Kardashian’s likeness on its site and on its Instagram account to sell clothes. The pages on the site referring to the petite celebrity are no longer available, but the complaint shows a page entirely dedicated to the Kardashians, including a page named “crushin’on kim k,” featuring several photographs of Kim Kardashian, and another page named “5 party looks inspired by the kardashians” featuring Plaintiffs and several of her sisters.

The complaint states that Kim Kardashian commands a fee of several hundred thousand dollars for a social media post, while “longer-term endorsement arrangements regularly garner fees in the millions of dollars.” 120 million people follow her on Instagram, and a little less than 60 million do so on Twitter. The celebrity owns also several trademarks protecting cosmetic and fragrance products.

. . . .

The complaint claims that Missguided has breached California’s right of publicity law, Cal. Civ. Code § 3344 and California’s common law right of publicity when it “willfully and without authorization used Kardashian’s name, image, likeness, and persona for commercial purposes, to advertise the Missguided brand and website, and to promote the sale of clothing on Missguided’s site.”

. . . .

The California statutory law protects use of a person’s name, voice, signature, photograph and likeness for purposes of advertising or selling, or soliciting purchases of products, merchandise, goods or services, without this person’s prior consent.

Link to the rest at The 1709 Blog

PG notes that Ms. Kardashian filed suit in California against a UK company.

How does a California court have power over a company that is headquartered overseas?

In civil litigation, a court in one state can assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant who resides in another state if the out-of-state defendant has sufficient minimum contacts with the state in which the court is located (the forum state).   A court in California can assert personal jurisdiction over a defendant who lives in New York, so long as the defendant’s contacts with California make it fair for the California court to force him to appear in court.

From Wikipedia:

[I]f a Florida orange grower were to breach a promise to deliver a bushel of oranges to a buyer in Alabama, the breach of that agreement would be sufficient for Alabama courts to assert specific jurisdiction, even if the Florida grower had no other contacts with Alabama, and had never even set foot there. The lone contact of a promise to deliver something to a state is enough to give the state jurisdiction over disputes arising from the breach of that promise.

. . . .

Merely placing products in the “stream of commerce” is insufficient to provide minimum contacts with the states where the products end up. The defendant must make an effort to market in the forum state or otherwise purposefully avail himself of the resources of that state. However, since only four of the nine Supreme Court Justices joined the opinion that required a defendant to do more than place his products in a “stream of commerce,” some lower courts still rule that doing so is adequate for a court to exercise personal jurisdiction.

. . . .

Courts have struggled with the Internet as a source of minimum contacts. Although not determinately established by the Supreme Court, many courts use the Zippo test, which examines the kind of use to which a defendant’s website is being put. Under this test, websites are divided into three categories:

  1. passive websites, which merely provide information, will almost never provide sufficient contacts for jurisdiction. Such a website will only provide a basis for jurisdiction if the website itself constitutes an intentional tort such as slander or defamation, and if it is directed at the jurisdiction in question;
  2. interactive websites, which permit the exchange of information between website owner and visitors, may be enough for jurisdiction, depending on the website’s level of interactivity and commerciality, and the number of contacts which the website owner has developed with the forum due to the presence of the website;
  3. commercial websites which clearly do a substantial volume of business over the Internet, and through which customers in any location can immediately engage in business with the website owner, definitely provide a basis for jurisdiction.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Suffice to say, jurisdiction over non-resident persons or corporations is not a crystal-clear question in some cases. PG hasn’t read the Complaint filed on behalf of Ms. Kardashian, but suspects Missguided and/or its US subsidiary may have advertised and/or sold its products in California.