So you know what’s it like. You post a selfie taken at the ballgame. Except you told your boss that you were home sick, with the flu. You were supposed to be with your significant other. But, oops, you checked into Foursquare. With your friend. You know, the one with benefits. Or maybe you rant against your kid’s soccer coach on Twitter. And he calls you out on it. Hence in May of 2014, The Boston Globe presented a half a dozen ways that social media can ruin your life.
And the article presents some boneheaded moves, including a poor choice of a Halloween costume (because evidently the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing are a laugh riot to someone out there), a Candy Crush addiction, and some poorly thought out tweets.
You Did What?
I’m sure that the following will, eventually, be the kinds of behaviors that could be added to a successor article (Note: some of these are real, some are speculative. I won’t name names. So you decide whether any of these have really happened, or are still in the ‘maybe’ column):
How about claiming a permanent injury for your lawsuit and then checking in from a dance contest
What about a court-ordered Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting blown off for a trip to the track – and a selfie with the dogs or horses running their hearts out in the background.
Or dissing your ex, big time, on Facebook or Twitter, and your child growing up to read your sunshiny status updates.
And then maybe a job interview, as you tout your fine record of academic achievement, with old Instagram photos of you showing off your barely passing C-average transcript.
Finally, politicians caught with underage drinking photos, sexting, pictures of their junk, and a panoply of other nuggets of oversharing.
I love social media but man oh man, people! Have a little self-control and some common sense.
Love, Communities, and the Captivating Charm of Togetherness
What would we do for the love of communities? What is it about an online community?
Just what, exactly, draws people together online? Perhaps that is the better question.
So when you look at Groundswell, the authors have the thing all figured out, or at least it seems that way. Internet users are divided into various social technographics profiles.
First of all, people who join online communities are called Critics (about 25% of the United States). People who create content, including not just making and contributing to discussion topics and blogs but also uploading photographs and other media are called Creators (approximately 18% of the US).
And the lurkers, the folks who watch but don’t participate, are Spectators (48% or so of America). People overlap and can be members of any or all of these groups, or of other groups I won’t get into here. Furthermore, of course, this only covers people who are online. Note: this tool was created by Forrester, but it’s gone now.
This is in our nature, or at least in some people’s natures. But there may be more to that so what follows is my own personal story which I hope will be of interest.
My Own Background
I first really got online socially (although I had used computers offline for years before then) in 1997. Princess Diana had just been killed, and for whatever reason I wanted to discuss this with someone, and my husband was not being too terribly cooperative. We had a fairly new computer with Internet access. I don’t know what possessed me — I just felt the need to talk to someone about Princess Diana, someone I hadn’t even been a particular fan of before. Perhaps it’s because her death, at the time, was so shocking.
I found mirc, a chat client. There wasn’t anyone to specifically discuss the matter with, but there were people to talk to. And so a love affair with social media and online communities began.
By 2000, I wanted a more challenging group of conversationalists. The Presidential election was so close and so interesting that I wanted to talk to someone about it. A colleague from India was even asking me: Are all American elections like this? and I did not have a good answer for him. I wanted to learn. Plus, it was the same feeling as in 1997 — I just wanted to have a conversation. I found Abuzz, which was owned and operated by The New York Times and The Boston Globe (the Globe is important to me because I live in Massachusetts). Here were intelligent people who were just as fascinated by the extremely close election! It was exciting.
By 2002, Abuzz was losing steam and my friend Robert Gentel contacted me. He told me he wanted to teach himself PHP and create a forums website, but that he didn’t want to manage the community. Would I do that? Would I become the Community Manager? Of course. And so Able2Know was born. I’ve been managing it ever since.
In 2005, I joined Trek United – again, with the username Jespah. I even did some moderating there, but it was too much to do that, my regular work, Able2know and also work seriously on my own health. I wrote a column for the original Hailing Frequencies Open ezine, and enjoyed it, until it, too, became just one more bit of overwhelm and so I put the column to bed, in 2009 if I recall correctly.
In 2008, when I joined SparkPeople, it was obvious to me that my username would be Jespah, and that I would actively participate.
In 2009, after my Reporting Analyst job was outsourced and I came to a personal understanding – given that I already had over seven years of Community Management experience under my belt and hence had more to say about it than many experts – I decided to shift gears in my career and go into Social Media marketing.
I began attending Quinnipiac University for an Interactive Media (Social Media) degree in 2013. I wanted to learn about communities, and about why some things in social media work, and some just plain fall flat. And I graduated in 2016.
What does this all have to do with the price of tea in Poughkeepsie? Well, perhaps nothing and perhaps everything. My Internet identity was forged over a decade ago, and in a very different set of circumstances than one that is seen these days with online collections of users.
Working in Social Media
As a professional Community Manager and Social Media Specialist
(I worked for a startup called Neuron Robotics, and now work in the freelance writing arena), there was much more of an emphasis on staying on message and keeping the talk within the confines of what the company needs. However, that startup had a looser feel than in a larger corporation but the principle was the same: get people their information and then move on to answering the next inquiry, or at least get someone who can answer it. Socializing, per se was not totally out, but it was limited, and not just on the company side of things. It was the users, as well, who did not wish to socialize. After all, do you go out for a beer with the guys manning your local Help Desk?
And so online communities become far more specialized and almost scripted. User asks question. And user receives answer. In addition, sometimes, another user offers a second opinion. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I occasionally used to get together with fellow Community Managers to talk turkey. And it surprised when I mentioned I’d written perhaps a dozen user obituaries.
Yes, really. I have done that (for Abuzz and Able2know).
And I’ve written user newsletters, not only for Trek United but also for Abuzz (we called that one AARON – An Abuzz Regular Online Newsletter – I loathed that acronym, still do).
What Are Users Doing?
Users go to communities and find that they have their own intrinsic values. One of the things that online communities have over Facebook (at least for now – never underestimate the power and ingenuity of Facebook’s IT staff) is that you can still carry on a truly sustained conversation here. People talk, and not just for a few hours or days or weeks, but for years! The Trek United Countdown Club started back in 2005. Yet in 2010, it continued. On Able2Know, word games and political discussions can go on for years. Users love these communities within the whole.
Online communities have shared values and in-jokes which other communities do not have, either on or offline. It’s like the Masons’ secret handshake, or wearing a Mogen David around your neck. You subtly tell others who you are and what you love.
Trek United had the countdown and Hailing Frequencies Open. Abuzz had nutella and a mysterious green Chevelle. Able2know has capybaras and Asian carp. SparkPeople had (or at least my little corner of it had) the Top SparkPeople Pick Up Lines and diet haikus. Those who are in, understand. Those who want to be in, make an effort to know. And those who don’t want to be in, can never seem to understand this kind of love.
It is a small jump from this kind of enclaving to creating one’s own community, and then the process repeats itself and, like all good little processes, it winds down and then winds back up again as users come together, break apart and reconfigure like so many amoebae in a petri dish.
But it is more than user cycles and outside determinism like access to the Internet which drives this dance. It is the music of the spheres and the essence of what it means to be a social creature. It is hard and soft, slow and lightning fast, familiar and different and a billion more things. And isn’t that a part of what love is?
Merrily we roll along, for it is love which, to misquote The Captain and Tennille, brings us together.
According to The Boston Globe, Facebook announced in late April that, “its 1.3 billion users would soon be able to limit the information they reveal to other websites or mobile applications when they log in through their Facebook identities.”
The idea behind this move is to address users’ concerns about revealing their personal data just to check out a website.
The enormous social networking site is also considering making it possible for users to log into other sites anonymously. That is, the login would be anonymous to the other site, but not to Facebook. Because, of course, Facebook wants to gather (presumably) anonymous data for the purpose of aggregating it and better understanding user behavior.
One of the reasons why Facebook has grown so enormous (1.3 billion users) is because it reveals such intimate details to online businesses. Likes are routinely scanned. Birth dates are revealed. Even photos and friend lists are sometimes shared with outside businesses. The aggregation of quantitative data (we are studying this at Quinnipiac, in ICM 524, which is the Social Media Analytics class) is vital to any number of sites understanding people’s behavior on the web.
The truth is, any person who believes that any of their clicks are not being counted, timed, compared, or otherwise measured is in for a real surprise. They are. And this is not necessarily any sort of a bad thing, I might add. For data to be best understood, there really does need to be an awful lot of it. And what better site to bring a lot of data than the behemoth itself, Facebook?
Snapchat ends up settling with the FTC over privacy issues. The Boston Globe reported this year that the images being passed by the Snapchat app weren’t vanishing without a trace, as advertised.
The temporal nature of its content proved extremely appealing to younger Internet users, and now it turns out that Snapchat’s content is a lot more durable than anyone wanted it to be.
There were a number of ways that content could be copied, including taking screen shots of the app.
But wait, it gets worse
According to the article, not only was the content kept, but, “ Snapchat transmitted users’ location information and collected sensitive data like address book contacts, despite its saying that it did not collect such information. The commission said the lax policies did not secure a feature called “Find Friends” that allowed security researchers to compile a database of 4.6 million user names and phone numbers during a recent security breach.”
It was only 2013 when the company was offered a multi-billion dollar buyout by Facebook. They refused, thinking they could do better.
The FTC isn’t messing around. Per the article, “Snapchat will be prohibited from misrepresenting how it maintains the confidentiality of user information. The company will also be required to start a wide-ranging privacy program, a sort of probation, and will be independently monitored for 20 years. Fines could ensue if the company violates the agreement.”
Yeah, that’s gonna stink for a while.
There are a few morals to this story, I feel.
Don’t be greedy. Facebook’s paying billions of bucks! What were the owners of Snapchat holding out for? Their own country?
Don’t promise stuff you can’t deliver.
Don’t assume your users are so clueless that they won’t find workarounds. Never underestimate a determined user.
And, for the users, don’t assume your content is private unless you have absolute control over all security and privacy settings. And the best way to have that kind of control is, don’t put your content online if you want it to remain private.
In an FDA-funded study published in the journal Drug Safety, researchers from Children’s, the FDA, and elsewhere searched through Twitter posts mentioning 23 commonly used medications. The list included antidepressants, sleeping pills, and popular over the counter remedies such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and even vaccines. The study was conducted for over a six month period between 2012 and 2013. Of the 60,000 tweets mentioning these drugs or vaccines, 4,401 of the postings described side effects that were blamed on the medications or vaccines.
This methodology certainly appears to be promising. Twitter is, by definition, a quick hit. No one is going to go into detail about their complaints. Further, since people are already at least somewhat cognizant of online issues with their own medical privacy, they might not want to go into too much detail. However, most people would, I believe, feel comfortable enough to tweet something like the following –
Aspirin is making me nauseous
I think Prednisone is giving me a rash
I don’t like taking Lipitor
For any researchers searching for information about side effects, Twitter and other social media platforms might prove to be useful. However, a caveat is most definitely in order – some people go to social media platforms pretty much for the solepurpose of complaining.