For months, there was talk of an impending “red wave” that would see the Republicans take control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Except, it wasn’t really ever as certain as some had actually predicted. As Politico.com reported, just seven weeks before the midterm elections, the GOP hope for a “takeback” of Congress was already diminishing.
In fact, after the Supreme Court revoked a 50-year constitutional right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade, a previously disengaged Democratic base was suddenly reignited – and throughout the summer there were those on social media suggesting it would be a “blue wave” that would come Election Day.
Breaking The Waves
As the Democratic surge had passed, modeling shifted again, and the GOP seemed predicted to win big. However, there was no wave on either side and that there were barely ripples at best. Everyone who predicted a wave on social media from either side seems to have gotten it completely wrong.
“Social media is the unguarded and largely ungoverned repository of random thoughts, emotions, conspiracies, speculation, and rumors. And once a topic gains traction, it is often amplified beyond proportion,” suggested Craig Barkacs, professor of business law and ethics in the Master’s in Executive Leadership and MBA Programs at the Knauss School of Business at the University of San Diego.
Though it was true that polls were indicating some close races, polls have also taken a reputational hit in recent years.
“To be fair, the notion that a red wave was coming was firmly rooted in empirical evidence, such as midterms that typically go against the party occupying the White House, inflation, a president with low approval ratings, and high gas price – along with the specter of a looming recession,” added Barkacs.
Thus, those proclaiming a red wave was coming were simply following what many pundits were already suggesting.
“Even though social media is not renowned for excesses of logic or reason, pushing back against such conspicuous historical trends turned out to be something few on social media were willing to do,” Barkacs continued.
As more and more people turn to social media rather than traditional news outlets, the platforms are playing a significant role in shaping how people perceive current events. However, those “news” sources may not be all that trustworthy.
“People are prone to follow accounts and news sources that confirm their pre-existing beliefs. This means that people were likely to see news coverage that confirmed the version of the world they hoped would materialize,” explained Colin Campbell, associate professor of Marketing at the University of San Diego’s Knauss School of Business and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Advertising Research.
“Social media rewards those voices that stand out the most,” Campbell noted. “This is because more extreme views are more likely to prompt reactions – either likes or comments – from viewers, and thus are more likely to be prioritized by algorithms. This results in more extreme views being over-represented on social media and thus having an above-average influence on users.”
As a result, social media contributed to the belief from each political spectrum that a “wave” was coming, even as polls suggested very tight races.
The various algorithms may have made users think that their beliefs were shared by the majority of voters, when in fact, many of these races were quite close, said Dr. Julianna Kirschner, lecturer for the Master of Communication Management program at the University of Southern California.
“Social media platforms have contributed to polarization in political discourse because they echo back what inputs the users have provided,” she further explained. “The echo chambers in which users find themselves tend to repackage the same political content to which users have already been exposed.”
That can lead users to become familiar with narrow political discourse that supports their existing views, which they can then recycle into posts they write themselves on social media. Kirschner said that another problem for social media is the dichotomous political landscape in the United States.
“As a user, you are categorized as one thing or another: Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, red or blue,” Kirschner continued. “Rarely is a voter given the realistic option of choosing something else, such as a viable third-party candidate. Therefore, social media has followed suit in categorizing users through one of two lenses: Republican or Democrat.”
In essence, social media wasn’t wrong about the midterms per se. Instead, these platforms reflected back polarizing discourse to make us think one perspective was a greater representation of the voting block.
“True representation is actually more of a gray area,” said Kirschner. “Social media’s fault has been over-amplification, and our perception of the midterm elections was swayed by that feedback loop.”
That is especially true as the platforms have also proved to be those echo chambers that are highly partisan or demographically similar.
“It’s a bit ironic that social media, which so often divides people in fierce pursuit of what they think is right,” said Barkacs, “in this case unified people around a viewpoint that turned out to be so wrong.”
The media business is in turmoil — but its stocks may be close to bottoming – CNN
The media sector has had a tumultuous 2022, culminating in the shocking return of Bob Iger as CEO of Disney and a spate of layoffs at multiple companies. But there may be a few hopeful signs for normalization and stabilization in 2023.
(NFLX). Wall Street, for what it’s worth, seems to think the worst is over for the streaming leader after it finally decided to cave and launch an ad-supported service. The stock is still down about 50% this year, but it’s no longer the biggest dog in the S&P 500 — and it’s actually up more than 75% from its 52-week low earlier this year.
The movie business is stabilizing, too — even though many people are still staying away from theaters and studios aren’t releasing as many blockbusters. But according to Box Office Mojo, the film industry has generated nearly $6.4 billion in ticket sales this year, led by Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick.”
While still a far cry from pre-pandemic levels, that’s up 30% from 2021 — and this year is not done.
DisneyMarvel has also had a monster hit with the eagerly awaited “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” sequel, which should churn out even more ticket sales over the next few weeks before the the end of this year. (Movie theater stocks are still languishing, however.)
The news is mixed for other struggling media titans. Shares of some companies have rebounded off their lows — like Disney
(FOXA), CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount, Comcast
(CMCSA) and digital media device maker Roku
Yet those stocks are all still sharply lower for the year. And what’s more, many media companies are in the midst of layoffs and other cost-cutting measures, including CNN and its parent Warner Bros. Discovery.
CBS owner Paramount also just lowered its forecast for advertising sales in the fourth quarter. CEO Bob Bakish said at a UBS media conference earlier this week that the market remains “challenging,” adding that this is the case for both traditional “linear” cable and broadcast TV as well as on the digital side of Paramount’s business.
Streaming shifts and possible media mergers
Market watchers are increasingly questioning the willingness of consumers to pony up for more streaming services so they can watch movies and TV shows at home. Subscription fatigue is starting to set in, which is another factor hurting the likes of Netflix, Disney and others.
“Media is in a state of transition (linear legacy TV to streaming), which becomes more difficult when traditional revenue streams see pressure (advertising on weak macro and affiliate revenue on cord cutting), as will be the case next year,” said Tony McCutcheon, an analyst with BNP Paribas Securities Corp., in a recent report.
Some analysts are hopeful the movie business rebound can offset some of the streaming weakness.
“The return of former CEO Bob Iger drives a return to creativity dominance, and the ongoing release of blockbuster content will continue to drive its flywheel of growth,” said analysts at Tigress Research. “Content is king and [Disney] is the king of content.”
Wall Street also is starting to speculate about another possible round of media mergers, given that weaker players may want to join forces to try and more effectively compete with Netflix and Disney.
UBS analysts pointed out in a report that Paramount believes industry consolidation is “inevitable.”
The accuracy of that prediction remains to be seen. But Wall Street is certainly more bullish about the prospects for media stocks.
The consensus price target on NBC/Peacock owner Comcast, for example, is about 25% higher than current levels while analysts are predicting a 30% pop for Disney. Wall Street is predicting that Warner Bros. Discovery could nearly double.
So even though it feels like there’s still more bad news to come, media stocks may have already hit the bottom.
Who should be teaching kids what not to do on social media? Coaches, teachers, parents
One of the most famous locker-room stories in modern sports happened in 2013 when NHL player Joe Thornton said – for all to hear – that if he ever scored four goals in a single game, he’d skate naked in front of everyone in the arena.
This description is the sanitized version and the comment was reported by the late-Vancouver sports reporter Jason Botchford – prompting a storm of criticism that the journalist had violated the sanctity of the locker room.
It was a very public example of how hockey players – and athletes in general – view their sacred den of privacy.
“What goes on in the locker room, stays in the locker room,” as the saying goes.
This code has been used to boost team spirits, but it’s also been co-opted to cover up abuse by pledging athletes to a code of silence, no matter how bad the behaviour.
Instantaneous technology – or particularly social media – is now disrupting the sports world’s code of silence.
Hockey has been rocked by scandals, including Hockey Canada standing accused of not taking sexual assault accusations seriously enough.
Hockey Canada released a report Friday detailing more than 900 documented or alleged incidents of on-ice discrimination – verbal taunts, insults and intimidation – across all levels and age groups during the 2021-22 season. The organization said, however, the information in the report doesn’t reflect off-ice incidents of maltreatment, sexual violence or abuse, which starting this season will be handled by the federal government’s Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner or a new independent third-party complaint process.
Social media has given victims and others a voice for demanding wide-scale changes.
NHL player Ian Cole was accused by a woman on Twitter of “grooming” – he was suspended and then reinstated after an NHL probe.
But it’s not just incidents and allegations hitting the big leagues.
In West Kelowna, a minor hockey organization has been dealing with allegations of disturbing hazing and cyberbullying. Kelowna RCMP’s Vulnerable Persons Section is now investigating a series of alleged incidents that include social media posts and group texts targeting a U15 player as part of a larger pattern of harassment.
In a different case, social media is at the centre of an egregious violation of locker-room privacy. Now the fate of a teenage hockey player is in the hands of a Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association disciplinary committee after inappropriate locker-room photos of undressed teammates were posted to social media.
Black Press Media has chosen not to identify the specific team to protect the identities of the youth involved.
According to a source that Black Press Media has also decided not to name, the photos were taken during an away game in October, by a player who was benched due to a prior game suspension. The images were shared in a Snapchat group chat.
Brad Scott, vice-president of administration with the local hockey association, did not dispute details when asked for comment by Black Press Media.
“What I can tell you is that we were made aware of a situation on the date that you’re referring to, and we took the required steps to deal with it immediately,” Scott said. The children involved and their famillies have decided not to pursue the matter further, and charges have not been approved at this time.
Scott added that the association does have protocols in place to prevent situations like this from happening. That association says it is looking to implement mandatory social media safety education and training program for parents and athletes alike.
This is just one example in what has become a prevalent number of incidents where children share inappropriate photos and videos on social media.
It begs the question of who – aside from parents – should be teaching children about social media and privacy ethics? Should coaches, club leaders and school teachers also be responsible for educating kids about this in a way that goes beyond simply saying that sharing inappropriate images is bad?
Children participate in so many different activities, from school to sports to the performing arts, and in all those spaces there is an expectation of privacy and good social conduct.
Not everyone who leads children is an expert in social media, but with some training and effort they can be part of the solution.
That’s according to MediaSmarts, a non-profit group that has been contracted by provincial and federal departments to advise on digital literacy issues.
MediaSmarts director of education Matthew Johnson said in a phone interview that any organization that guides children, whether it’s schools, performing arts group or sports teams, should be addressing privacy ethics.
“They absolutely should be teaching children about this,” Johnson said. “We all have a responsibility to teach youth about privacy ethics.”
Johnson says “everybody has a camera in their pocket” and the issue of how images are used must be addressed as a collective effort.
Sports teams are an interesting case, Johnson said, because of the “strong subculture” that develops within that team dynamic. Sometimes that subculture becomes more powerful than even what parents are telling them, Johnson said, with coaches sometimes carrying more weight than mom and dad.
Teams need to be vigilant in sharing a message of respecting others, he said, so they “don’t fall prey to moral disengagement.”
MediaSmarts research has looked at, for example, the issue of sexts sent between boys and girls. Boys are more likely to think it’s acceptable to share the sexts with others, Johnson says.
Efforts need to be made with consistent messaging so this behaviour isn’t normalized, he said. The key is letting boys know that their peers think it’s wrong.
“If they think that their peers think it’s wrong, then they’re more likely not to do it,” Johnson said.
But organizations need to do more than simply say something is wrong, Johnson said. MediaSmarts offers a variety of information and tools for people to use in teaching about digital literacy on a consistent basis and is a good place for organizations to start.
BC Hockey CEO Cameron Hope says his organization, which handles more than 60,000 minor and amateur hockey league players – including the Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association – has detailed policies and protocols in place for locker room privacy and the use of social media. For example, the use of phones in locker rooms is prohibited.
BC Hockey also has educational modules detailing appropriate conduct that have been created through a partnership with Sheldon Kennedy, a former-NHL player and survivor of sexual abuse by a coach, Hope said.
All of these policies and materials are then distributed to all the individual hockey associations, with age-appropriate instructions on how they are to be delivered to each player, Hope said.
Coaches are a vital part of delivering messages about their behaviour but, unfortunately, not every player listens, Hope said.
“The hope is that common sense prevails,” but Hope adds that this isn’t always the case.
BC Hockey receives dozens and dozens of complaints each year, according to Hope, ranging from kids calling each other nasty names to the sharing of inappropriate images.
To deal with these complaints, Hope said BC Hockey has a multi-level approach called a “maltreatment tracking system” that documents each case to ensure they are investigated and taken seriously. BC Hockey also formed a new committee just to monitor complaints as they progress through the system. This tracking system, said Hope, is being used for the Maple Ridge locker-room incident.
“You have to have an infrastructure in place so people feel comfortable (reporting incidents),” Hope said.
Ultimately, it’s the local associations that investigate and communicate with parents, Hope said.
A source who contacted Black Press Media about the Maple Ridge incident was concerned the case was not being dealt with quickly enough.
The team’s players were told right after the incident, and then there was a mandatory meeting for parents. But according to the source, only about half to three-quarters of the parents attended.
Parents have since been told, in a letter from the association to parents that was obtained by Black Press Media, that the parents of the children who were victimized didn’t want to pursue the matter any further.
Students spend six to eight hours, fives days a week, at school – and when sleep is factored in that leaves young people in the hands of teachers more hours in a day than parents.
In 2013, B.C.’s education ministry launched the ERASE Student Advisory, which brings students together to help create social media guidelines for inside and outside of the classroom.
Such guidelines include students today being asked to sign media consent forms at the start of the school year. The guide also encourages teachers to address social media use in the classroom by outlining “their specific rules.”
But does that place an unfair burden on teachers?
Not so, says BC Teachers’ Federation president Clint Johnston, who told Black Press Media the union is supportive of teachers playing a major role in teaching privacy ethics.
In fact, the union has been working with the ministry on a draft section dealing with internet safety. That section will then upgrade a health education course to include issues such as catfishing and the sharing of inappropriate images online.
Students need more education on the legalities involved with sharing private information on social media, he said.
“That is a piece being put into place (for the future),” Johnston said. “We’re certainly supportive of (this being taught). That’s how you ensure every student receives it.”
Then, other teachers add to that course by continuing conversations in all classrooms to reinforce the same information.
The efforts described above are all about prevention. Sadly, for some the damage done can lead to tragic ends.
Perhaps the most famous cyberbullying case in Canada ended with the death of Coquitlam’s Amanda Todd after she was sextored by a man online. The man who tortured her was recently convicted in a B.C. court.
In 2013, 17-year-old Nova Scotia resident Rehtaeh Parsons, who was allegedly raped and then bullied over shared photos of the assault, also ended her own life.
Earlier this year, a Vancouver mom came forward to describe how her 12-year-old daughter received explicit images over Instagram, causing extreme emotional damage.
The list of incidents goes on and on.
In Canada, it is illegal for a person to distribute an intimate image of another person without that person’s consent.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection created Cybertip.ca to provide programs and resources to help prevent online child victimization, including information on the legal aspects of posting intimate images.
If someone has an intimate image/video that was created in private circumstances, and that person knowingly posts it online or shares it with someone else, knowing that those in the image would not consent to it, the person could be charged.
Items posted in private sites can easily be reposted elsewhere and are difficult to remove from the internet.
In the Maple Ridge incident, families were warned to delete the images of the undressed teammates, but it’s unknown if that actually took place with every player on the team who received them – leaving the victims possibly vulnerable in the future.
– With additional reporting by Colleen Flanagan, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News & Gary Barnes, Kelowna Capital News, and the Canadian Press
US Sides Against Google in Consequential Social Media Case
(Bloomberg) — The Biden administration told the US Supreme Court that social media companies in some cases can be held liable for promoting harmful speech, partially siding with a family seeking to sue Alphabet Inc.’s Google over a terrorist attack.
In a Supreme Court filing on Wednesday night, the Justice Department argued that social media websites should be held responsible for some of the ways their algorithms decide what content to put in front of users.
The case, likely to be argued early next year, revolves around the family of Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old US citizen who was killed by ISIS in Paris in November 2015. Her family is arguing that YouTube, which Google owns, violated the Anti-Terrorism Act because its algorithms recommended ISIS-related content.
The Justice Department did not outright side with Gonzalez. Instead, the government argued that the family should get another crack before a federal appeals court that tossed out the complaint against Google. The government said social media companies shouldn’t be held liable simply for allowing content to be posted or for failing to remove it.
Read More: Social Media Company Liability Draws Supreme Court Scrutiny
The case could narrow the country’s interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the tech industry’s prized liability shield that protects social media platforms from being held liable for content generated by users.
“The statute does not bar claims based on YouTube’s alleged targeted recommendations of ISIS content,” wrote acting US Solicitor General Brian Fletcher.
A coalition of 26 states and Washington, D.C. also filed on behalf of Gonzalez in the case, arguing that courts have encouraged an overly broad interpretation of Section 230. They claimed the statute currently holds them back from enforcing state laws when criminals operate online.
Congress has long debated whether to reform Section 230, which was originally passed in 1996 before the modern internet came to dominate everyday life. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that the sweeping immunity has enabled the social media companies to make editorial decisions affecting billions of people without consequences. But Congress has struggled to create and pass bipartisan legislation on the issue, leaving the question of online speech to the courts.
Most of the Supreme Court justices have not made any public statements about their views on Section 230 – except Justice Clarence Thomas, who last year said the court should consider treating social media companies like public utilities. That would enable the government to create a much more aggressive regulatory regime around companies like Meta Platforms Inc., Twitter Inc. and YouTube.
The Google v. Gonzalez case has already attracted attention from some senators on Capitol Hill. Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri submitted briefs in support of reforming Section 230, which has long faced the ire of conservatives hoping to punish the social media companies for allegedly censoring conservative content.
Google has argued that narrowing Section 230 could make it harder for them, and other social media platforms, to remove terrorist content.
“Through the years, YouTube has invested in technology, teams, and policies to identify and remove extremist content,” said Google spokesman José Castañeda. “We regularly work with law enforcement, other platforms, and civil society to share intelligence and best practices. Undercutting Section 230 would make it harder, not easier, to combat harmful content — making the internet less safe and less helpful for all of us.”
The Justice Department sided with Twitter and Google in a separate Supreme Court case involving social media this week. At issue in Twitter v. Mehier Taamneh is whether Twitter violated the Anti-Terrorism Act by failing to enforce policies against pro-terrorist content on its platform. Fletcher argued in a filing on Tuesday night that Taamneh’s family had failed to prove that Twitter was intentionally “aiding and abetting” terrorism.
The cases are Gonzalez v. Google, 21-1333 and Twitter v. Taamneh, 21-1496.
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