The Privacy Paradox

In a post Cambridge Analytica world, why are people still using social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram? Despite the fact that people threatened to leave the social network in droves after the data breach was revealed, most people actually stayed on and things returned to normal. Why is this the case?

A window printed with the words "private meeting room"
“Private” by Duane Tate is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Social media scholars have identified  a phenomenon called the privacy paradox that can help to explain this behavior. Put succinctly, the privacy paradox refers to the fact that though people state they do not intend to disclose their personal information online, they do so anyway; or the fact that though people say they do not trust that their information will be private online, they still end up disclosing a large amount of personal information on social networks.

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The Privacy Paradox

What can sustainability communicators learn from social media marketers?

Recently, Ann Dale, Jamie Clifton-Ross and I wrote an article for the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing. In it, we detailed a case study about Canada Research Connections (@CRCResearch) and how we applied social media marketing concepts, specifically content curation strategies, to more broadly engage a broad audience with academic research on sustainability.

An image showing arrows between two word bubbles and the phrase social media marketing
“Social Media Marketing” by Jerry Nihen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Over two years, we took a deliberate approach grounded in best practices in social media strategy. We attempted to build a network of interested followers friends, we engaged in reciprocity, sharing the posts produced by others, and we deliberately used engaging visuals, narratives, and accessible language in our posting. Furthermore, we ensured that we were posting to social media platforms on a regular schedule, and posting according to the times that were most appropriate for each platform. Finally, we tailored our content to suit different platforms. Longer posts and videos for facebook, short bite-sized content and retweets with images on Twitter, Strong images and short videos on Instagram, and longer videos with animations on YouTube. Every approach we followed was well known in the social media marketing world, but interestingly was not broadly used in science or sustainability communication. Instead, these communication domains tend to rely primarily on a more just the facts style communication with an academic presentation and tone.

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What can sustainability communicators learn from social media marketers?

Social Media and Information in a Post Cambridge Analytica World

I was fortunate enough to attend two great International academic conferences in the last two weeks. The first, The International Conference on Social Media and Society, took place at the Copenhagen Business School, and the second, the IEEE Professional Communications Conference, took place at the University of Toronto. The first conference was entirely about research having to do with social media, and included a panel about how social media research must change now that platforms are cutting access to their API’s in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The second conference was, broadly speaking, about technical communication, but included a plenary about how the ways we communicate can either facilitate accuracy, truth and information access, or undermine all of these things. The IEEE Professional Communications Conference also included panels centred around using social media to teach and research communication. Now, after both of these conferences, I have a few reflections of my own on social media, data gathering, research and access to information in a post Cambridge Analytica world.

A sidewalk spray painted in red with the words "facebook in death"
“Facebook” by Frank Hebbert. CC-BY-2.0. Available on Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/Sq4x8
  1. Post truth issues such as “alternative facts”, polarization, and propaganda cannot simply be countered with more information. It is clear that people are not swayed by data. Providing additional arguments to back up your claims will likely be countered with additional false information from the other side. The information bounty of online spaces facilitates this. So if we can’t counter mistruths or propaganda with more information what can we do?
  2. HOW you tell your story is very important in this context. This means that if you really want people to have access to truthful information, you have an obligation to present that information in a way that is accessible, including using plain language and easy-to-understand images, and telling a compelling story whenever possible. Humans tend to respond to narratives better than they respond to  straight repetition of facts, so science communicators and researchers need to think about how we can remain faithful to the facts while also telling a compelling story.
  3. Research therefore, and necessarily must focus on people – what do they want? What resonates with them? How do they access information? What do they believe to be true, and how does this influence how they engage with one another and with the information environment? Since access to API’s is becoming much more difficult in the wake of Cambridge Analytica, we will be challenged to come up with new methods for understanding what people do online, but this is also a wake up call for researchers, as we were becoming quite complacent scraping twitter for the low hanging fruit of our research, without having to ask critical questions about the limitations of API scraping.

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Social Media and Information in a Post Cambridge Analytica World

If Something Seems Right… Try To Find the Opposite

Digital communication and PR professionals recognize a few truisms about online communication:

  1. Strong emotions get shared more often on social media.
  2. People tend to share things they really strongly agree or disagree with.
  3. Google and Facebook tend to tailor or curate your feeds, giving you more of the stuff you already like, because that’s what we tend to view as more relevant.
  4. Messages that are easily digestible and meet criteria 1-3 will be more shareable than ones that are not.

In this information environment then, if you want to get your message out, you try to craft something that arouses a strong emotion and is specifically targeted at the audience you want to reach. If you don’t believe me, then think about how Trump’s campaign so masterfully employed Facebook targeting to reach their key demographics. While many still claim that Russian meddling helped to win the election, in reality it was strong, emotional and tailored content that won the day.

A picture of a sticker on a road sign. The sticker says I love propaganda
“I Love Propaganda” by Newtown Graffiti CC BY 2.0. Available from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/irEHoL

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If Something Seems Right… Try To Find the Opposite

Communicating for social change

We know it happens, because it’s influenced elections.

We know it happens, because it’s impacted people’s careers.

We know it happens, because it’s spawned effective protest movements, and even encouraged people to take up knitting and crocheting.

Communication, via popular social media platforms CAN create social change.

But HOW?

#womensmarch by Rob Kall. Available from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/23AMGwE

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Communicating for social change

Social Media Mindfulness Is Not Enough

A group of virtual reality avatars sitting in a circle engaging in meditation
“VR Meditation Guided by Jeremy Nickel” posted to Flickr by Sansar VR. Available at https://flic.kr/p/GBrspR CC-BY 2.0

It used to be only a few voices on the margin: Ian Bogost, Sherry Turkle, Geert Lovink, or Evgeny Morozov, for example, who urged people to think a little more about the time they were spending on social media. But soon the whisper grew and now the movement may be reaching the mainstream. With the rise to prevalence of former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris and his Center for Humane Technology, and with the Facebook Privacy/Cambridge Analytical scandal all over congress and the world news, people are starting to have conversations that were considered almost laughable before. Continue reading “Social Media Mindfulness Is Not Enough”

Social Media Mindfulness Is Not Enough

On Social Media, A Whisper is Louder than a Megaphone

What good is 300,000 facebook friends, or a viral video viewed by 3 billion people if only a fraction of those people are actually interested in what you have to share with them or sell to them? The answer is, not much. Rather than aiming for a large broadcast audience, rather than taking a broadcast approach to participatory media, those of us without the money or other resources to spread our message far and wide need to be more strategic than that. Those brands that have grown a movement have tapped into just these principles. For this reason, smaller organizations, artists, or individuals probably don’t gain much by focusing on dramatically increasin follower counts over a short amount of time. This type of activity takes too much time, energy and money that could be  better spent on actually growing a small business. Instead, for most of us, it’s better to have 3000 of the right followers- people who are most likely to convert.

an image of a megaphone with the words "speak up"
Speak up, make your voice heard by Howard Lake. Available from Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/9rAjnQ
License CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

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On Social Media, A Whisper is Louder than a Megaphone

Have Publishers Left the Building?

I learned it on Instagram today: The Chive has officially left Facebook.

Ok, well they haven’t fully left. But they will no longer be posting their articles, videos and other content directly to their Facebook page. Instead, they will be sharing links only in Facebook, and the links will take people back to their webpage. The way God Herself intended.

An instagram post announcing the Chive is cutting ties to Facebook
Chive’s Feb 28th post on my Instagram Feed

 

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Have Publishers Left the Building?

Chasing Meaningful Interaction: Facebook’s Declining Value

Have we reached peak Facebook?

 

A facebook error message
Facebook error by Beth Kanter on Flickr (CC by 2.0). Available from https://flic.kr/p/5iEcGp

A recent article in the Guardian reports that while people over 55 are still flocking to the social network in droves, a key demographic: teens and young adults, are leaving Facebook or even failing to join in the first place. Teens and young adults, according to the Guardian, are “defecting to snapchat”, and while Facebook initially managed to hang on to this group by buying up Instagram, it hasn’t been able to buy snapchat, and copying the popular features of snapchat on Instagram and the Facebook platform have not served to engage younger users.

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Chasing Meaningful Interaction: Facebook’s Declining Value

Goliath vs. Goliath: Or Why the Net Neutrality Debate is Complicated

You may have noticed that net neutrality was in the news quite a bit this week after US FCC Chairman Ajit Pai tried to slip a release into the pre-long weekend news burial ground stating that he plans to roll back any legislation related to Net Neutrality. In response to this, Netflix released a statement that it opposes any attempts to roll back net neutrality rules. Back in July, when the idea of gutting net neutrality law was first floated under the Trump administration, all of the major platform players such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, spoke out against these proposed regulations. But a Google search that I conducted this morning shows news in which Twitter, Pinterest, AirBnB and of course the aforementioned Netflix make statements opposing the new legislation while Facebook and Google are conspicuously absent.

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Goliath vs. Goliath: Or Why the Net Neutrality Debate is Complicated