Social Media

Young Adult Author Cancels Own Novel After Race Controversy

1 February 2019

From The Guardian:

An up-and-coming young adult author has cancelled the publication of her highly anticipated debut novel, following a flood of online criticism from readers over her depiction of race and slavery.

Amélie Wen Zhao’s novel, Blood Heir, was sold to publishers for a high six-figure sum last January. A fantastical retelling of the Anastasia story involving “a princess hiding a dark secret and the conman she must trust to clear her name for her father’s murder”, it was scheduled to be published in June.

But in a statement on Wednesday, Zhao said that negative feedback from the young adult community had led to her asking her publisher, Delacorte Press, not to release the book “at this time”.

Following positive early reviews, a groundswell of criticism of Blood Heir began last month, with reviews posted on Goodreads and Twitter calling out what one reader described as “the anti-blackness and blatant bigotry in this book”, particularly its depiction of slavery and the death of a particular black character.

. . . .

“It was never my intention to bring harm to any reader of this valued community, particularly those for whom I seek to write and empower … I don’t wish to clarify, defend or have anyone defend me. This is not that; this is an apology,” wrote Zhao on 30 January, adding that she was “grateful to those who have raised questions around representation, coding, and themes in my book”.

Zhao, who raised in Beijing and emigrated from China to the US at the age of 18, said she wrote the book “from my immediate cultural perspective”, writing that the slavery storylines in her novel “represent a specific critique of the epidemic of indentured labor and human trafficking prevalent in many industries across Asia, including in my own home country”.

“The narrative and history of slavery in the US is not something I can, would, or intended to write, but I recognise that I am not writing in merely my own cultural context,” she wrote.

Zhao had previously said on her website that she had set out to create “a diverse cast, many of which are beloved and dear to a third-culture kid like myself … a tawny-skinned minority of a Russian-esque princess; a disowned and dishonoured Asian-esque assassin; an islander/Caribbean-esque child warrior; a Middle-Eastern-esque soldier”.

“I write fantasy, but my story draws inspiration from themes I see in the real world today. As a foreigner in Trump’s America, I’ve been called names and faced unpleasant remarks – and as a non-citizen, I’ve felt like I have no voice – which is why I’ve channeled my anger, my frustration, and my need for action into the most powerful weapon I have: my words,” she wrote last year.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

See also How a Twitter Mob Derailed an Immigrant Female Author’s Budding Career

PG didn’t really need any additional reasons to stay away from Twitter, but he got some anyway.

On-Trend Design

1 February 2019

This is a bit different than most of the topics TPV addresses, but one of the tasks of a successful indie author is to promote the author’s books.

Newsletters and social media are likely the most common tools for these promotions (although PG would be happy to hear about others). However, standing out in an inbox or on an Instagram feed is not simple.

Images are one means of standing out. Colors are another.

From Shutterstock (All images are from Shutterstock with additional information about each image in the OP):

Looking to refresh your work with the most popular new color combos? Revamp your designs for the new year with these three on-trend neons.

. . . .

With influencers and tastemakers looking to neon as the next big color trend in fashion, it makes complete sense that analysis of the Shutterstock search data revealed these three energetic hues as the colors that Shutterstock users are most excited about right now.

. . . .

This flouro green takes natural influences and exaggerates them, throwing them into a digital sphere. Think The Matrix, Flubber, and the iridescent scales of geckos and chameleons, and you’re on the right track.

UFO Green strikes the perfect balance between nature and technology, making it the perfect color to bridge the gap. Use it to create designs that are at once peaceful and reviving, as well as forward-thinking.

. . . .

UFO Green is the younger, more fun-loving sister of nature-inspired greens like sage and forest. Enhance the natural tropical tendencies of UFO Green by enhancing your photos with flouro green filters.

..
. . . .

Neon typography is an eye-catching way to evoke a nightlife mood, and works especially well on events flyers and posters. This neon font has a classic, vintage-inspired style that evokes Parisian absinthe bars.

Link to the rest at Shutterstock

PG understands that not all the ideas in the OP will suit a particular author’s taste, but climbing out of an appearance rut may improve visibility and engage readers and prospective readers better than only updating the written message in new promotions.

What It Felt Like When “Cat Person” Went Viral

11 January 2019

From The New Yorker:

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

Hi Jenni,

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

Sorry to keep you waiting,

Deborah

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

Amazon will win advertising dollars away from Facebook amid privacy concerns

10 January 2019

From re/code:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at re/code

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

4 January 2019

From New York magazine:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

Link to the rest at New York magazine

Why it’s time to cancel your Amazon Prime account

27 November 2018

From Fast Company:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Fast Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’ve decided to start giving a damn again

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

From The Digital Reader

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

So, the anniversary.

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

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

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

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

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

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

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

16 November 2018

From The New York Times:

Sheryl Sandberg was seething.

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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