Facebook attempts to clean up its act.

Is it enough?

Watching Facebook these days as it pivots from diffusing one “rude development” to another seems a little like watching someone perform a combination plate-spinning and whack-a-mole act.

We’ll call it the Facebook Follies.  The question is … is it working?

Last month, Facebook issued its newest Community Enforcement Report – a document that updates the world about improvements the social media giant is making to its platform to enable it to live up to its stated community standards.

Among the improvements touted by the latest report:

  • Facebook reports now that ~5% of monthly active accounts are fake. (Still, 5% represents nearly 120 million users.)
  • Facebook reports now that its ability to automatically detect “hate speech” in social posts has jumped from a ~24% incidence in 2018 to ~65% today. (But this means that one-third of hate speech posts are still going undetected.)

Moreover, Facebook now reports that for every 10,000 times Facebook content is viewed by users:

  • ~25 views contain content that violates Facebook’s violence policy
  • ~14 views contain content violating Facebook’s adult nudity and sexual activity policy
  • Fewer than 3 views contain content violating Facebook’s policies for each of these categories: global terrorism; child nudity, and sexual exploitation

The community enforcement information is being reported as “wins” for Facebook … but people can’t be faulted for thinking that Facebook could (and should) be doing much better.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

On a different type of matter, this past week it was reported that Facebook has agreed to settle a class-action complaint that accused the social platform of inflating viewing metrics on Facebook videos by up to 900%.

Although details of the settlement haven’t been revealed, this development appears to close the book on criticisms that were lodged as far back as 2016, in which advertisers charged that Facebook hadn’t investigated and corrected errors in its metrics — nor allowed for third-party verification of the metrics.

It’s yet another agenda item that’s now been ticked off the list – at least in Facebook’s eyes. But now another controversy has now erupted as reported over the past few days in The Wall Street Journal.

Described in a front-page article bylined by veteran WSJ reporters John McKinnon, Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and Jeff Horwitz, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears linked to “potentially problematic privacy practices” that date all the way back to 2012, when Facebook signed a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission but that it may have violated subsequently.

Contemporaneous e-mail communications retrieved from the time period suggest that Zuckerberg was more than merely passively involved in deliberations about a particular app that claimed to have built a database stocked with information about millions of Facebook users. Purportedly, the app developer had the ability to display the Facebook user information to others — regardless of those users’ privacy settings on Facebook.  The e-mails in question detail speculation about how many other apps were stockpiling such kinds of user data, but the evidence shows little or no subsequent action being taken to shut down the data mining activities.

Another view.

These latest developments raise questions about the veracity of Facebook’s stated intentions to redouble its efforts to uphold community standards and focus more on user privacy, including moving toward encrypted and “ephemeral” messaging products that are better aligned with the European Union’s existing privacy laws that the United States may also be poised to adopt in the future.

Apparently Facebook recognizes the problem: It’s ramping up its global advertising spending to “rebuild trust” — to the tune of doubling its previous ad expenditures.  Here’s what Facebook’s marketing head Antonio Lucio is saying:

“There’s no question we made mistakes, and we’re in the process of addressing them one after the other.  But we have to tell that story to the world on the trust side as well as the value site.”

Ad-tracking company Kantar notes a big increase already in Facebook’s U.S. ad spending — up to nearly $385 million in 2018 compared to only around $50 million the year before.  As for the campaigns themselves, Facebook is relying on a number of big-name ad agencies like Wieden+Kennedy, Leo Burnett and Ogilvy for developing its various campaigns.

Another view.

There’s more than a little irony in that.

Considering the latest news items, what are your thoughts about Facebook? Are they on the right track … or is it “too little, too late”?  Are their intentions honorable … or are they simply engaged in “window dressing” to get people off their case?  Let us know your thoughts.

Twitter, in Four Sentences

Terry Teachout

Back in 2015, Wall Street Journal columnist, author and arts critic Terry Teachout had a few choice comments to make about Twitter — then as now one of the more controversial of the social media platforms.

With the passage of time — as well as significant elections, referenda and other socio-political developments intervening — it’s interesting to go back and read Mr. Teachout’s comments again.

From his perspective, in 2015 Teachout had postulated that the essence of Twitter could be boiled down to four statements, as follows:

  • How dare you talk about A, when B is infinitely more important?
  • If I disagree with you, you’re almost certainly arguing in bad faith — and are probably evil as well.
  • You are personally responsible, in toto and in perpetuity, for everything that your friends, colleagues, and/or ancestors have ever said, done, or thought.
  • (Statements #2 and #3 do not apply to me.)

Looking at these statements, it’s pretty remarkable how little has changed.

Or has it? What do you think?

[In an interesting side-development, Terry Teachout’s own Twitter account was hacked in 2018 — several years after he published his statements above.  As he recounts here, trying to get all of that sorted out with the social media platform was it’s own special kind of misery, even if ultimately successful.]

Despite privacy issues, social media adoption remains as high as ever.

The question is, why?

It seems as though privacy issues in social media have been in the news nearly steadily over the past several years. Considering that, it might come as a surprise that social media adoption remains as high as it’s ever been.

Today, nearly 9 in 10 Americans age 18 or older are regular users of one or more social media sites (interacting at least one or two times per week).

If anything, that’s a higher percentage than before.  So what gives?

Here’s the answer: According to data from a recent survey of nearly 2,200 Americans age 18 or older conducted by Regina Corso Consulting, two-thirds of respondents believe that people on social media should not have any expectations of privacy.  None.

Thus, it seems pretty clear that social media users have factored in privacy concerns and decided that, on balance, the “price of admission” when using social media sites is to leave their privacy at the door. It’s a tradeoff most users recognize, understand and accept.

This isn’t to contend that all users are deliriously happy with their current social media practices. In fact, nearly 40% of the respondents in the Regina Corso survey would like to reduce or stop their usage — but are afraid of what they might miss in the way of news and updates.  The “FOMO factor” is real.

In the end, that’s what Facebook and several other social media giants have long understood:  Once a certain critical mass is achieved, any concerns about social platforms are negated by the sheet universal nature of them.

Just as millions of American choose to reside in places prone to hurricane storm and flooding damage while fully recognizing the potential danger, millions more choose to be on social media despite the privacy risks that everyone has heard about them.

What about you — have you changed your social media behaviors in the wake of news developments over the past several years?

Klout’s gone (thankfully) … but get ready for Skorr.

Social influence/reputation scores – what no one really wants – come back for Round 2.

Who remembers Klout anymore?  When the social media “influence rater” was quietly shuttered in mid-2018,

Klout was just a faint glimmer of what it had once been.  Over a 10-year arc, the social influence “Klout Score” went from being something some people cared about to being something no one bothered with.

Through some rather opaque algorithms, Klout purported to measure the reach and influence of people’s social networks and correlate the content they created to measure how others interacted with that content.

Klout used major social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and LinkedIn (plus a few less important ones like Foursquare and Google+, but not SnapChat or Pinterest) to create a person’s so-called “Klout Score” ranging from 0 to 100.  The higher the score, the more “social clout” the person presumably had.

The resulting score was something that many people discounted, noting that prolific bloggers ended up having Klout Scores significantly higher than even the president of the United States.

Others looked at their own modest Klout Scores and freaked out.

But as it turned out, all of it was “much ado about nothing” — so much blue smoke and mirrors.  MediaPost columnist Kaila Colbin put her finger on the reality of it all when she wrote this about the foundation upon which Klout was built:

[The idea that] “the carrot, the reward, is the influence you have — that is backwards. Influence is not a reward or an end-result.  It is a byproduct of actually being good …”

Colbin continued:

“A service like Klout promotes the ambition of being influential, but there are no shortcuts. Show up. Express yourself wholeheartedly. Deliver value. Ask yourself what you can give your community. The influence will take care of itself.”

As if on cue, starting about halfway into its decade-long life, Klout began to show significant cracks in its foundation. Klout’s presence began to weaken as more people raised questions about the company’s well-guarded methodology by which its scores were determined.

Still others began to label the scheme “socially evil” in that Klout was in the business of exploiting the “status anxiety” of the people who paid attention to the scores.

But perhaps the biggest knock came when search engine specialist Sean Golliher analyzed the Klout scores of Twitter users and discovered that the number of Twitter followers was sufficient to explain 95% of the Klout scores assigned to those users. That finding validated the suspicions many had about Klout all along that its rating system was an elaborate architecture based on very little at all.

The last few years of Klout played out like so many other high-flying wonders of the cyberworld:  A change of ownership that failed to stem the negative trends, followed by mounting irrelevance and finally closing down the entire enterprise.

At the time Klout was shuttered in May 2018, few even noticed. Indeed, for many Internet users it was as if Klout had never existed.

But cyberspace being what it is, no sooner had Klout disappeared than a new social influence/reputation protocol emerged to take its place.

This time it’s Skorr, sporting the high-minded tagline “grow socially” and described by its backers as follows:

“[We] are now building a decentralized reputation protocol for the Internet: making reputation immutable and anonymity accountable … This reputation protocol allows individuals, organizations and things to create one or multiple reputations, depending on their identity.  Each reputation will be immutable, verifiable and traceable — and as such, the actor can be held accountable.”

Over on the company’s website, we read that not only will Skorr allow people to measure their influence, it “will also allow you to challenge your friends on different social contests and invite them to social media disputes.”

Isn’t that just what we need: more ways to help people argue more online.

Let’s hope that this new influence/reputation “protocol” will go the way of the last one — and that it happens a whole lot quicker this time around.

Facebook’s bad publicity in 2018 lands it at the top of the “least-trusted technology company” list.

The trust is gone …

One has to assume it’s a citation Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has tried mightily to avoid receiving. But with a massive data breach last year and poor marketing decision-making accompanied by a wave of bad publicity, it shouldn’t come as a major shock that Facebook is now considered the least trusted major technology brand by consumers.

The real surprise is by how much it outscores everyone else. Really, Facebook’s in a class by itself.

Recently, online survey research firm Toluna conducted a poll of ~1,000 adults age 18 or older in which it asked respondents to identify their “least trusted” technology company.

The results of the survey show the degree to which Facebook has become the “face” of everything that’s wrong with trust in the world of technology.

Here’s what Toluna’s found when it asked consumers to name the technology company they trusted least with their personal information:

  • Facebook: ~40% of respondents trust least
  • Amazon: ~8%
  • Twitter: ~8%
  • Uber: ~7%
  • Google (Gmail): ~6%
  • Lyft: ~6%
  • Apple: ~4%
  • Microsoft: ~2%
  • Netflix: ~1%
  • Tesla: ~1%

The yawning gap between Facebook’s unflattering perch at the top of the listing and the next most-cited companies — Amazon and Twitter — says everything anyone needs to know about the changing fortunes of company image and how fast public opinion can turn against it.

About the only thing worse is not showing up on the Top 10 list at all – which is the case for Oath (the parent of Yahoo and AOL).  That entity has become so inconsequential, it doesn’t even enter into the conversation anymore.  That’s a “diss” on a completely different level, of course. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is … not being talked about.”

What about you? Do you think that Facebook should be tops on this list?  Let us know your opinion below.

The ignominious end of Google+.

… And who cares?

How many of us have predicted the demise of Google+? Over the years, the ill-fated social network wasn’t ever able to gain much traction.

Its “hangouts” and “rooms” functionality, trumpeted with great fanfare when launched, never really amounted to much.  The few times I attempted to engage with people in any of those spaces, it was akin to being the only person in a restaurant at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Several months ago, Google finally bowed to the inevitable and announced that it would be shuttering Google+, effective in August 2019.

But even this end-date has turned out to be star-crossed. In one final ignominy, Google discovered a bug in a Google+ API which appears to have affected potentially more than 52 million users.

Specifically, apps that have requested permission to view the profile information that users had added to their Google+ profiles – basic things like name, age, occupation and e-mail address – were granted permission to do so even when the users’ profiles weren’t set to “public.”

On a brighter note, the bug didn’t allow access to more sensitive information such as financial figures, passwords, or similar data typically used for identity theft, nor does it appear that any of the personal information has been misused – at least not yet.

But as a result of discovering this bug, Google has now decided to shut down the Google+ social platform this coming April – four months earlier than planned.

So, what we have is that the final exit of Google+ from the scene further underscores its underwhelming existence. As Ben Smith, a Google vice president of engineering, stated candidly, the social platform “has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption and has seen limited user interaction with apps.”

Which is another way of saying, “It’s been a failure.”

And while a few souls may be lamenting its demise, for the vast majority of people, the platform expired years ago.

What about you?  Did you ever engage with this social media network?  And if you did, what was your experience.  Most tellingly, when did you cease you interaction?

A day late and a dollar short: Starbucks finally honors its pledge to install WiFi blocking mechanisms in its stores.

In the age of social media shaming, it’s a wonder that some companies think they can get away with failing to keep their promises.

A case in point is Starbucks Coffee. For a number of years now, there have been concerns raised by Starbucks customers and other consumers about the easy ability to access pornography websites via the free public WiFi at the company’s store locations.

You may have witnessed it – people viewing such material in full view of other customers, without regard to whether there are minors present or any other ameliorating factors.

In such matters there’s such a thing as propriety. It isn’t illegal to view (most) pornography, but there’s a time a place for everything.

What it most certainly isn’t is copulating on the beach, or viewing hardcore pornography in a public space like a shopping mall, a coffee shop an airplane.

You’d think all of this would be obvious to a company like Starbucks — seeing as how “socially aware” the company purports to be. But it took protests from 75+ groups beginning in 2014 to convince the company to block access to porn sites for people using the public WiFi at its stores.

It took two years, but in 2016 Starbucks bowed to pressure and announced publicly that it would be rolling out porn blocking mechanisms across all of its stores.

But then … it didn’t happen.

What was Starbucks thinking? In its wisdom, did it think that by simply making the announcement the controversy would blow over?  That’s either naïve or willfully arrogant.

In any case, after waiting several more years for action to occur, a new online petition in November from a group called CitizenGo quickly gained more than 26,000 signatures — inside of a week, in fact.

Commenting on the effectiveness of the new effort, Donna Hughes, who heads up Enough is Enough, the Internet safety umbrella organization representing the 75+ groups concerned about Starbucks’ lack of action, explained why the petition resonated with so many people:

“By breaking its [earlier] commitment, Starbucks is keeping the doors wide open for convicted sex offenders and others to fly under the radar from law enforcement and use free, public WiFi services to access illegal child porn and hardcore pornography. Having unfiltered hotspots also allows children and teens to easily bypass filters and other parental control tools set up by their parents on their smartphones, tablets and laptops.”

Considering the speed in which the November petition reached critical mass, social media has only grown in its reach since 2016. What took two years to obtain a (broken) promise from Starbucks to implement blocking mechanisms for its store’s public WiFi took just one week this time around.

Starbucks has now confirmed to several news outlets that it is recommitting to install blocking software for its store locations in 2019.

We’ll see how good the company is in honoring its pledge this time around. My guess is that they won’t play with fire a second time around.