Long before marriage and medicine, when I was a high school kid, we had a phone in the hallway. Its earlier cousin was the upright one you’ve seen in museums and old (very old) movies. You lifted the earpiece and clicked its little holding cradle.
My mother, a telephone operator in Pittsburgh before she married, explained what happened next: The operator took a sort of cable linked to your phone and plugged your line into the one you wanted. You’d think it would be a private, two-person thing, but there could be a lot of people on the line — the operator, the other person, you and, well, the neighbours. And your mother. Talk about social media.
That phone was central in the house and the family. Its replacement, a black-but-jazzy, rotary dial thing, was cool. “David, it’s for you!” my mother would say, both she and the phone essential cogs in the wheel of the family and its business. Her picking up the line meant she could ask, “Who was that?” intent on knowing who my friends were and what we were up to. She wasn’t nosy; she was cautious. It was high school, a tricky navigation for a mother and her not-so-easy-to-manage kid.
That’s all gone now: my mother, sadly; the teenager, of course; the not-so-private, shared communication; the central, single phone. The non-human things have been replaced, though, almost sequentially, by the wall phone; the princess phone; the touch-tone; the flip phones; and now by those little palm-held, private things. You know what I mean; you’ve been there for most of this journey yourself, I bet.
Fast forward 60 years. The other day, we were looking to connect with someone we hadn’t seen for a while. I wanted to wish him Happy Birthday. Maybe Happy Groundhog Day. No big deal.
“Do you have Henry’s email, honey?” I asked The Boss, on her computer.
“No,” she said. “When I want to reach him, I think I text him. Though, come to think about it, I maybe WhatsApp him. No, no,” she said finally, brightening. “I know. I Facebook-Message him. Not LinkedIn, though; I don’t, you know, do Linkey-Dinkey.”
Don’t get me started.
Used to be, in the old days, you’d just send the guy a birthday card. Or you’d, like, pick up the phone, wish him a happy day and, bingo, the job would be done. Not now, apparently.
Back to that central landline phone. We have one, though I’m not certain why, exactly; it never rings. It’s the one where you hear that annoying Bell Woman, the snarky one who says, “You have dialed a number to which long distance charges apply.” You can almost hear her say, “Stupid!” as you hang up. Under her breath, quietly.
Lush Is Selectively Quitting Social Media, Can You?
Last week, Lush Cosmetics announced removing themselves from 4 major social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. They claim they’re, protesting the “serious effects” social media has on users’ mental health and wellbeing. Ironically their announcement garnered them plenty of free publicity in the traditional sense.
“We wouldn’t ask our customers to meet us down a dark and dangerous alleyway—but some social media platforms are beginning to feel like places no one should be encouraged to go,” the retailer wrote. Lush, which has 240 stores across Canada and the U.S., said it’ll remain off the platforms until they ensure a safer environment for users. They’re calling their “boycott” their Global Anti-Social Media Policy. However, they’re staying on Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube, thus not 100% removing themselves from having a social media presence.
Lush’s timing is suspect. Sticking with Twitter makes me wonder if their Global Anti-Social Media Policy is just a pre-holiday PR stunt. Twitter literally doesn’t have any filter. People can easily share misinformation, disinformation, hate speech, inappropriate content, etc., which stays on the platform until reported.
On the surface, Lush’s decision is both principled and brave. However, I’m sure Lush questioned the ROI of their social media spend against their bottom line before “taking a stand” against social media’s harmful effects.
Mark Constantine, Lush’s co-founder and CEO, must have decided the ROI from Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube outweighed taking a stance against all social media platforms tolerating toxic behaviour. As long as a platform serves Lush’s bottom-line, they’ll stick with them. Am I suggesting that Lush selectively “quitting social media” is a business move? Of course, it is! Why else would they stay on some social platforms and not others when all platforms are toxic to a certain degree.
It’s always business profits before taking an ethical stand. Therefore, brands tend to virtue signal; there’s no real risk doing so, with the upside of enhancing the brand’s image amongst the naïve. Lush isn’t really quitting social media; they’re trying to portray as if they are. The headline of their press release: “Lush Cosmetics to Deactivate Global Social Media Accounts”.
Unless you’re a hardcore e-commerce site like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart (Estimated number of monthly visitors: 468.96 million.), social media usually isn’t an efficient sales channel. Social media is great for increasing brand awareness. However, accurately tracking new sales from social media platforms is a near impossibility. Vanity metrics such as ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ don’t necessarily result in sales. I’m still waiting for a brand to show how much a “like” influences their bottom line.
Undeniably social media has proven not to be great for our collective mental health. People don’t congregate on social media because of brands. They do so because of their dire need to be accepted or admired. People use social media in the unhealthiest way possible; trying to gauge whether their peers and community accepts or rejects them. Tribalism is the nature of social media. Lush selectively avoiding specific social media platforms isn’t a significant step toward decreasing the toxic nature of social media platforms. All social media platforms tolerate toxic behaviour.
Lush hasn’t offered any concrete solutions on how to mitigate, if not eradicate, the toxicity appearing on social media sites. Tackling the issue will require a collective effort between lawmakers, associations, sociologists, social media companies and those who hold the money social media companies depend on—brands. Like climate change, it’s too late for minor acts. Major action (READ: drastic) is needed.
In July I wrote an article entitled, Will Social Media Companies Ever Make Fighting Online Abuse a Priority? I offered several suggestions on how social media companies can reduce toxic behaviour on their platforms. One solution I proposed is requiring credit card and/or phone number authentication to create a social media account. This would prevent anonymous accounts from being created. Social media users, knowing they can easily be traced, will therefore rein in their toxic behaviour.
Every social media platform relies on advertising revenue for survival and being profitable. Eyeballs are what keep social media free for you and me. Having as many eyeballs as possible is why social media companies accept toxicity within their respective “user guidelines” to exist on their platform.
Toxic behaviour is a cost-effective way for social media companies to attract and hold our attention. As someone once said, “If it’s free, then you are the product.” Who among us doesn’t like aggressive theatrics morphing into a flame war of insults, labelling and accusations, all in futile attempts to prove the other person wrong? Has insulting someone or calling them a “racist” ever changed their mind?
Then there’s the lack of discussion regarding algorithms designed to prioritize sensationalized content over mundane content, so anything that encourages debate is presented to the masses. Why? Because this type of content creates arguments in the comments section, which counts as “engagement.”
What’s the likelihood that more companies walk away from social media—or all social media? (Not just selectively as Lush has done.) I’m not holding my breath. We’re unable to unite to face obvious dangers such as climate change. The damage caused, particularly to the emotional development of adolescents, by social media is Machiavellian in nature and therefore not widely accepted as being factual. In contrast, social media companies and brands have self-serving financial agendas worth unimaginable billions.
What’s never talked about is social media usage being a choice and user responsibility. Attention and reaction are a choice. We’re choosing to chase emotions on digital platforms, giving social media companies the eyeballs, they need to attract advertisers.
Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan.
Trump SPAC social media company appears to miss its first product deadline – CNBC
WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump’s new social media company appears to have missed the November deadline it set to release an invitation-only beta version of “Truth Social,” its purported alternative to Twitter.
There have been no official announcements of a beta launch, nor have there been any sightings or images of an operational platform online.
At the same time, the price of the stock of Digital World Acquisition Corp. – the SPAC company that plans to merge with Trump’s social media firm – has dropped dramatically since its share price exploded when the deal was announced in late October.
Shares of DWAC, which had been trading as high as $175 per share right after the merger was disclosed, were trading at around $44 per share on Wednesday.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Reuters reported that Trump’s new company is trying to raise up to $1 billion by selling shares to hedge funds and family offices at a price higher than its initial pre-merger valuation of $10 a share.
“Trump Media is now looking to secure a so-called private investment in public equity (PIPE) that would value Digital World shares closer to their recent price, currently hovering around $40,” Reuters reported, citing anonymous sources.
The value of DWAC shares spiked during the final 10 minutes of trading Wednesday, jumping from $38.35 at 3:50 PM to a high of $51.02 just after 4:00 PM.
It is not unusual for tech companies to miss their own deadlines for product releases.
But the November launch date that Trump Media & Technology Group set for “Truth Social” was the first clear test of whether the company could deliver on its promises to investors who bought stock in DWAC.
Representatives of TMTG and DWAC did not immediately respond to questions about Truth Social from CNBC.
DWAC is a special purpose acquisition company, also known as a blank check company, which had an initial public offering in September that raised approximately $290 million.
On Oct. 20, DWAC announced that it plans to merge with Trump’s newly created TMTG, in a deal that valued the resultant firm at up to $1.7 billion.
In its own announcement, Trump Media & Technology Group said it “will soon be launching a social network, named ‘TRUTH Social.'”
“TRUTH Social is now available for PreOrder in the Apple App store. TRUTH Social plans to begin its Beta Launch for invited guests in November 2021,” the announcement said. “A nationwide rollout is expected in the first quarter of 2022. Those who are interested in joining TRUTH Social may now visit www.truthsocial.com to sign up for the invite list.”
But as of Wednesday, the Truth Social website was still just a landing site and a sign up form to be on the “waiting list.”
It is also unclear who is actually building the network.
An investor presentation created by TMTG does not disclose any companies working on the TRUTH Social platform, nor does it list any executives involved in the social media site.
The media relations officer for the company, Roma Daravi, has not tweeted about TMTG and Truth Social since October. Daravi did not respond to an inquiry from CNBC.
DWAC stock had been trading at around $10 before the deal was disclosed.
Between Oct. 21 and 23, more than 500 million shares of DWAC were traded, and the company was one of the most discussed companies on retail traders’ discussion boards.
Owning shares of DWAC also became an emblem of political support for Trump. Several of the former president’s most outspoken backers in Congress bought shares in the company.
But the frenzy of speculation quickly died out.
Within a week, the stock price began to fall, and has been on a steady decline ever since.
While Wednesday’s close of $44.35 was more than four times the pre-deal trading price, people who bought DWAC shares at the height of the hype and held on to the stock would have seen most of their investment’s value evaporate.
If Truth Social actually launches as promised, the network would provide a platform for Trump, who was banned from Facebook and Twitter following his incitement of the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Without the ability to communicate directly with his followers online, Trump has been forced to rely on press releases and appearances on friendly cable news channels.
Twitter is not the only media platform Trump and his allies are trying to replicate on their own in order to promote the former president.
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. and a partner also recently formed a publishing company, Winning Team Press, and published a coffee table book of photos from Trump’s years in office.
Update: This story was updated to include the closing price of DWAC shares Wednesday.
Facebook whistleblower Haugen urges lawmakers to avert impasse on social media laws – NBC News
WASHINGTON — Ex-Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen implored lawmakers Wednesday to avert the usual congressional stalemates as they weigh proposals to curb abuses on social media platforms by limiting the companies’ free-speech protections against legal liability.
“Facebook wants you to get caught up in a long, drawn out debate over the minutiae of different legislative approaches. Please don’t fall into that trap,” Haugen testified at a hearing by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. “Time is of the essence. There is a lot at stake here. You have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create new rules for our online world. I came forward, at great personal risk, because I believe we still have time to act. But we must act now.”
Her previous disclosures have energized legislative and regulatory efforts around the world aimed at cracking down on Big Tech, and she made a series of appearances recently before European lawmakers and officials who are drawing up rules for social media companies.
Haugen, a data scientist who worked as a product manager in Facebook’s civic integrity unit, buttressed her assertions with a massive trove of internal company documents she secretly copied and provided to federal securities regulators and Congress.
When she made her first public appearance this fall, laying out a far-reaching condemnation of the social network giant before a Senate Commerce subcommittee, she shared how she believes Facebook’s platforms could be made safer and offered prescriptions for action by Congress. She rejected the idea of breaking up the tech giant as many lawmakers are calling for, favoring instead targeted legislative remedies.
Most notably, they include new curbs on the long-standing legal protections for speech posted on social media platforms. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have called for stripping away some of the protections granted by a provision in a 25-year-old law — generally known as Section 230 — that shields internet companies from liability for what users post.
“Let’s work together on bipartisan legislation because we can’t continue to wait,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., the chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee. The tech giants want nothing more than partisan division and dithering over the legislation, he said.
Facebook and other social media companies use computer algorithms to rank and recommend content. They govern what shows up on users’ news feeds. Haugen’s idea is to remove the protections in cases where dominant content driven by algorithms favors massive engagement by users over public safety.
“Facebook will not change until the incentives change,” Haugen told the House panel. “I hope that you guys act because our children deserve much better.”
That’s the thought behind the Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act, which was introduced by senior House Democrats about a week after Haugen testified to the Senate panel in October. The bill would hold social media companies responsible by removing their protection under Section 230 for tailored recommendations to users that are deemed to cause harm. A platform would lose the immunity in cases where it “knowingly or recklessly” promoted harmful content.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who heads the full Energy and Commerce committee, said a proposal from its senior Republican, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, isn’t identical to the Democrats’ bill but represents a good start for potential compromise.
“Big Tech should not be the arbiter of truth,” Rodgers said, renewing conservatives’ assertions that social media platforms censor those viewpoints. Rodgers’ proposal would allow conservatives to challenge the platforms’ content decisions.
All of the legislative proposals face a heavy lift toward final enactment by Congress.
Some experts who support stricter regulation of social media say the Democrats’ legislation as written could have unintended consequences. It doesn’t make clear enough which specific algorithmic behaviors would lead to loss of the liability protection, they suggest, making it hard to see how it would work in practice and leading to wide disagreement over what it might actually do.
Meta Platforms, the new name of Facebook’s parent company, has declined to comment on specific legislative proposals. The company says it has long advocated for updated regulations.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has suggested changes that would only give internet platforms legal protection if they can prove that their systems for identifying illegal content are up to snuff. That requirement, however, might be more difficult for smaller tech companies and startups to meet, leading critics to charge that it would ultimately favor Facebook.
Other social media companies have urged caution in any legislative changes to Section 230.
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