You Can’t Disavow Content (or maybe RTs ARE endorsements)

We’ve all done it.

Well most of us have, anyway. The infamous addendum to your Twitter bio. Come on, you know it – it goes something like this: “RT’s are not endorsements” or “RT’s do not equal endorsements” or something along those lines.

Heck, I have one myself, you can check it out on Twitter if you look up @SocMedDr. It serves as a little disclaimer. A little “I may not have done my homework, but I liked a tweet so I retweeted it, don’t hassle me later” disclaimer.

A blue knitted twitter bird with the caption "integrated social publishing: retweet me plz"
“Twittering your Business 06: retweet” by Hugger Industries is licensed under CC by-nc-sa 2.0

And today, I’m going to tell you why I think we’re all wrong to do this. Especially now in an age of online information operations and fake news.

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You Can’t Disavow Content (or maybe RTs ARE endorsements)

Why are we so shocked?

So, in the news last week, it turns out Facebook behaved like many other large and not particularly ethical companies. Sheryl Sandberg is implicated in the hiring of a right-wing PR firm known for it’s “black ops” style engagement. This firm created messages suggesting that anti-Facebook activists had ties to George Soros (a known Republic dog whistle tactic). It has also been suggested that Sandberg wanted to suppress information about Russian election meddling (even the information which originated from Facebook’s own security people. All this and more is detailed in a recent New York Times article that commentators are saying shocked, and I mean, SHOCKED! the world.

Gasp!

A picture of a warning sign indicating danger of electric shocks
“Shocking” by Sooo0 is licensed under CC by-nc-sa 2.

Or maybe, on second thought, it’s not so shocking after all. In fact, I would ask why, after all of the countless apologies made by Zuckerberg over the years (see here, here and here, for just a few examples), why we are shocked by this? Furthermore, I would ask us to consider similarly why we’re so shocked when Amazon mistreats employees, or when Google is implicated in government censorship in other countries.

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Why are we so shocked?

A Media Ecology of Online Misinformation: What can Postman teach us?

We are living in what some call an era of unprecedented global information flows. Participatory online communication technologies such as social media have allowed anyone with access to the internet to upload information for anyone else can see. Though not everyone participates as an active prosumer of information, enough people do that we are overwhelmed with information. 300 videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute, five new Facebook profiles are created every second, and every second about 6,000 tweets are posted to Twitter. The numbers are mind boggling.

Street art depicting a boy in a striped shirt sitting on a partially open laptop computer
“Information overload! #streetart #berlin” by Acid Midget is licensed under CC by 2.0

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A Media Ecology of Online Misinformation: What can Postman teach us?

The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

According to recent research at the Social Media Lab in Toronto, Canada, Canadians are somewhat comfortable with academic researchers accessing their social media data. 56% of Canadians indicate that they are ok with their data being used for academic research purposes. In contrast, only 34% of Canadians feel comfortable with marketers accessing their social media data, but this discomfort is unfortunately at odds with the way social media companies make money, meaning every day Canadians are exposing themselves to the groups which they don’t really (when asked) want to access their data.

A subway platform with the words "mind the gap" written on the floor
“Mind The Gap” by Allen Brewer is licensed under CC by 2.0

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The Data Divide: Who Gets to Know About You?

Why it’s not so easy to #QuitFacebook

Yes, it’s true, Facebook has been implicated in some incredible abuses of power. From Cambridge Analytica to Facebook’s role in the uprisings in Myanmar, to censorship in China and beyond, Facebook has some ‘splaining to do. And consumers (FB users) should just “vote with their feet” and leave the platform once and for all or Facebook will never be held accountable.

"don't quit" by Sarah Page is licensed under CC by 2.0
“don’t quit” by Sarah Page is licensed under CC by 2.0

I agree with most of the #QuitFacebook arguments. And also, I don’t agree that everyone can just stop using Facebook. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

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Why it’s not so easy to #QuitFacebook

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

21st Century PR: When All Else Fails, Pretend You’re a Journalist

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about fake news, biased journalism, and journalists as “very bad people“, the very people complaining the loudest about the press seem to be those who are most adept at manipulating it. Take for example, the current President of the United States, who employs a combination of direct to consumer social media tactics, and also maintains strong relationships with non-professiona,l we-cannot-really-call-them (cough cough) news organizations like infowars, in order to perform the idea of news while supplanting the actual purpose entirely.

A yellow plastic fish caught in a net hangs against a grey cubicle wall
“Fake fish, fake lomo” by Patrick Fitzgerald. CC-BY 2.0. Available from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/barelyfitz/34407290

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21st Century PR: When All Else Fails, Pretend You’re a Journalist

Is your content bot or not?

According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center that I, ironically enough learned about because it was shared on Twitter, “an estimated two-thirds of tweeted links to popular websites are posted by automated accounts” also known as bots.

Automated accounts post the majority of tweeted links to popular websites across a range of domains

Two thirds.

To me, this means three things:

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Is your content bot or not?

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