Facebook: Slow and TikTok: Fast. Can Research Keep Pace with Effects?

September 23, 2022

I read “Facebook Proven to Negatively Impact Mental Health.” The academic analysis spanned about two decades. The conclusion is that Facebook (the poster child for bringing people together) is bad news for happy thoughts.

I noted this passage:

The study was based on data that dates back to the 2004 advent of Facebook at Harvard University, before it took the internet by storm. Facebook was initially accessible only to Harvard students who had a Harvard email address. Quickly spreading to other colleges in and outside the US, the network was made available to the general public in the US and beyond in September 2006. The researchers were able to analyze the impact of social media use by comparing colleges that had access to the platform to colleges that did not. The findings show a rise in the number of students reporting severe depression and anxiety (7% and 20% respectively).

The phrase which caught my attention is “quickly spreading.” Sure, by the standards of yesteryear, Facebook was like Road Runner. My thought is that the velocity of TikTok is different:

  1. Slow ramp and then accelerating user growth
  2. Rapid fire content consumption
  3. Short programs which Marshall McLuhan would be interested in if he were alive
  4. Snappy serve-up algorithms.

Facebook is a rabbit with a bum foot. No lucky charm for the Zuckers. TikTok is a Chinese knock off of the SR 71.

Perhaps the researchers in Ivory Towerville will address these questions:

  1. What’s the impact of high velocity, short image-centric videos on high school and grade school students?
  2. What can weaponized information accomplish in attitude change on certain issues like body image, perception of reality, and the value of self harm?
  3. What mental changes take place when information is obtained from a TikTok type source?

Do you see the research challenge? Researchers are just now validating what has been evident to many commercial database publishers for many years. With go-go TikTok, how many years will it take to validate the downsides of this outstanding, intellect-enhancing service?

Stephen E Arnold, September 23, 2022

TikTok: A Slick Engine to Output Blackmail Opportunities

September 22, 2022

Some topics are not ready for online experts who think they know how sophisticated data collection and analytics “work.” The article “TikTok’s Algorithms Knew I Was Bi before I Did. I’m Not the Only One” provides a spy-tingling glimpse into what the China-linked TikTok video addiction machine can do. In recent testimony, TikTok’s handwaver explained that the Middle Kingdom’s psychological profile Ming tea pot is just nothing more than kid vids.

The write up explains:

On TikTok, the relationship between user and algorithm is uniquely (even sometimes uncannily) intimate.

This sounds promising: Intimate as in pillow talk, secret thoughts, video moments forgotten but not lost to fancy math. The article continues:

There is something about TikTok that feels particularly suited to these journeys of sexual self-discovery and, in the case of women loving women, I don’t think it’s just the prescient algorithm. The short-form video format lends itself to lightning bolt-like jolts of soul-bearing nakedness…

Is it just me or is the article explaining exactly how TikTok can shape and then cause a particular behavior? I learned more:

I hadn’t knowingly been deceiving or hiding this part of me. I’d simply discovered a more appropriate label. But it was like we were speaking different languages.

Weaponizing TikTok probably does not remake an individual. The opportunity the system presents to an admin with information weaponization in mind is to nudge TikTok absorbers into a mind set and make it easier to shape a confused, impressionable, or clueless person to be like Ponce de Leon and explore something new.

None of this makes much sense to a seventh grader watching shuffle dance steps. But the weaponization of information angle is what make blackmail opportunities bloom. What if the author was not open about the TikTok nudged or induced shift? Could that information or some other unknown or hidden facet of the past be used to obtain access credentials, a USB stuffed with an organization’s secrets, or using a position of trust to advance a particular point of view?

The answer is, “Yep.” Once there is a tool that tool will be used. Then the tool will be applied to other use cases or opportunities to lure people to an idea like “Hey, that island is just part of China” or something similar.

In my opinion, that’s what the article is struggling to articulate: TikTok means trouble, and the author is “not the only one.”

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

Mastodon: An Elephant in the Room or a Dwarf Stegodon in the Permafrost?

September 22, 2022

Buzzkill and Crackpot have been pushing Mastodon for years. If you are familiar with the big elephant, you know that mastodons are extinct. If you are not familiar with distributed mastodon, that creature is alive and stomping around. (The dwarf stegodon Facebook may become today’s MySpace.

Chinese Social Media Users Are Flocking to the Decentralised Mastodon Platform to Find Community amid Crackdown at Home” explains once one pays up to access the write up:

Mastodon, an open-source microblogging software, was created by German developer Eugen Rochko in 2017 as a decentralised version of Twitter that is difficult to block or censor. It was partially a response to the control over user data exerted by Big Tech platforms, and the source code has since been used for many alternative platforms catering to those disaffected with mainstream options.

Features attractive to those eager to avoid big tech include, says the report:

Older posts are also difficult to resurface, as there is no free text search, only searching for hashtags. This is by design and encourages users to be more comfortable sharing their thoughts in the moment without worrying about how that information will be used in the future. Blocking content is also difficult for the Great Firewall because it is shared across instances. Alive.bar might be blocked, but people on another domain can follow users there.

Will Chinese uptake of Mastodon cause the beast to multiply and go forth? With censorship and online incivility apparently on the rise, yep.

Stephen E Arnold, September 22, 2022

Be an Information Warrior: Fun and Easy Too

September 16, 2022

I spotted an article in Politico. I won’t present the full title because the words in that title will trigger a range of smart software armed with stop words. Here’s the link if you want to access the source to which I shall refer.

I can paraphrase the title, however. Here’s my stab at avoiding digital tripwires: “Counter Propaganda Tailored to Neutralize Putin’s Propaganda.”

The idea is that a “community” has formed to pump out North Atlantic Fellas’ Organization weaponized and targeted information. The source article says:

NAFO “fellas,” as they prefer to be called, emblazon their Twitter accounts with the Shiba Inu avatar. They overlay the image on TikTok-style videos of Ukrainian troops set to dance music soundtracks. They pile onto Russian propaganda via coordinated social media attacks that rely on humor — it’s hard to take a badly-drawn dog meme seriously — to poke fun at the Kremlin and undermine its online messaging.

The idea is that NAFO is “weaponizing meme culture.” The icon for the informal group is Elon Musk’s favorite digital creature.

See related image detail

The image works well with a number of other images in my opinion. The source write up contains a number of examples.

My thought is that if one has relatives or friends in Russia, joining the NAFO outfit might have some knock on consequences.

From my point of view, once secret and little known information warfare methods are now like Elon Musk. Everywhere.

Stephen E Arnold, September 16, 2022

False Expertise: Just Share and Feel Empowered in Intellect

September 15, 2022

I read “Share on Social Media Makes Us Overconfident in Our Knowledge.” The write up states:

Social media sharers believe that they are knowledgeable about the content they share, even if they have not read it or have only glanced at a headline. Sharing can create this rise in confidence because by putting information online, sharers publicly commit to an expert identity. Doing so shapes their sense of self, helping them to feel just as knowledgeable as their post makes them seem.

If the source were a hippy dippy online marketing outfit, I would have ignored the write up. But the research comes from a cow town university. I believe the write up. Would those cowpokes steer me wrong, pilgrim?

I wonder if the researchers will take time out after a Cowboy Kent Rollins cook out to explore the correlation between the boundless expertise of the Silicon Valley “real news” crowd and this group’s dependence on Twitter and similar output channels?

That would make an interesting study because some of the messaging is wild and crazy like a college professor lost in a college bar on dollar beer night.

Stephen E Arnold, September 15, 2022

Tweet Terror in Some Geographic Areas

September 8, 2022

While western countries are chided for controversial engagement with LGBTQ groups, they cannot compare the staunch hatred they face in the Middle East. The Middle East is dominated by fundamentalist Islamic governments that criminalize homosexuality and transgender people. Unfortunately, these groups experienced a new wave of hatred Euro News reported in, “Arabic Anti-LGBTQ Campaign Goes On Twitter.”

The anti-LGBTQ campaign is called Fetrah, meaning “human instinct” in Arabic. Three Egyptian marketing professionals experienced in social media campaigns designed Fetrah. Fetrah promotes only two genders, rejects homosexuality, and supporters show a blue and pink flag.

Meta deleted the Fetrah page, but supporters managed to get a different page up on Facebook as well as on Instagram. Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter does not ban hate groups like Fetrah:

“Mahsa Alimardani, a digital rights expert told the Cube that Twitter and other social media platforms should be investing more resources into fighting this harmful campaign. ‘Too much censorship and policing can actually be a problem on some platforms but with Twitter we often find that the reverse is true, especially when it comes to harassment and harmful content targeting vulnerable communities’ said Alimardini. ‘We can see here a prime example of how queer communities in the Middle Eastern and North African regions can be harmed by Twitter’s inaction. The platform has very high threshold when it comes to policing content, which can be harmful,’ she added.”

Western countries have their faults, but many people have a “live and let live” attitude when it comes to LGBTQ people. People in the Middle East are not that different, but hatred is unfortunately promoted by religious governments.

Whitney Grace, September 8, 2022

A Surprise: Newton Minnow Was Prescient

August 30, 2022

Social media is to blame for most misinformation spreading across the Internet faster than viral videos. Despite declining numbers, TV still plays a huge part in the polarization of the American populace. Ars Technica explains why: “It’s Just Not Social Media: Cable News Has Bigger Effect On Polarization.” While social media echo chambers exist, it is not at the huge scale we have been led to believe.

Researchers from Microsoft Researchers, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania tracked TV consumption from thousands of American adults between 2016 to 2019. They discovered that selective news exposure did increase polarization, but it mostly came from TV. They found that 17% of American TV news watchers are politically polarized with a near-split average between left and right politics. That is three to four times higher than online news watchers.

TV watchers also do not change their viewing habits:

“Besides being more politically siloed on average, our research found that TV news consumers are much more likely than web consumers to maintain the same partisan news diets over time: after six months, left-leaning TV audiences are 10 times more likely to remain segregated than left-leaning online audiences, and right-leaning audiences are 4.5 times more likely than their online counterparts. While these figures may seem intimidating, it is important to keep in mind that even among TV viewers, about 70 percent of right-leaning viewers and about 80 percent of left-leaning viewers do switch their news diets within six months. To the extent that long-lasting echo chambers do exist, then, they include only about 4 percent of the population.”

Also depending on the TV viewers’ political leanings, they never stray too far from preferred news networks. The political imbalance is increasing among how audiences get their news, because more are shifting from broadcast news to cable.

This is not good, because it increases divisions among people rather than showing the commonalities everyone shares. It also makes news more sensational than it needs to be.

Whitney Grace, August 30, 2022

How Fragile Is Twitter?

August 25, 2022

The question is, “How fragile is Twitter?” I am not a tweeter. I think we have a script which posts items from this blog, but I am not sure. Twitter is more of a left and right coast thing. Those who love it find that it can deliver “followers” and one hopes personal satisfaction, fame, and fortune.

The datasphere is rippling with Twitter news. I glanced at Techmeme today (August 25, 2022 at about 6 30 am) and spotted many, many Twitter stories.

There was the former DARPA technology security wizard. This individual offered assertions about Twitter’s management and technology ineptitude. The Washington Post is excited about the individual’s forthcoming testimony before the adepts on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Mark your calendar and warm up the TV. The event takes place on September 13, 2022. For the breathless explanation of how a critique of the tweeter thing becomes a Senate hearing in a few short weeks, read “Twitter Whistleblower To Testify In Congress About Security Failures.”

Twitter’s senior manager takes a different position. The tweeter is up to snuff.

Elon Musk is excited because the to and fro about Twitter may be helpful to his brilliant business maneuvering to bring the Musky scent of excellence to short messages mostly unrestrained by someone with a sense of propriety. “Twitter Lied To Elon Musk About Bots – Peiter Zatko, Ex Security Chief” explains

Following the publication of Zatko’s revelations on different news outlets, Tesla CEO, Elon Musk took to his Twitter profile to comment about the issue. Musk tweeted a screenshot of The Washington Post covering the whistleblower’s revelation, accompanied by another tweet of an image, with the phrase “give a little whistle”.

My reaction to the Twitter thing has two parts. The first part is the craziness that Twitter has engendered in its service, its management trajectory, and its PR magnetism. Twitter has zero impact on me personally or professionally, and it is remarkable that so much weirdness surrounds a text messaging service in which the content is publicly available.

The second part of my reaction is the sense that some of the journalists, pundits, and wizards who have achieved Twitter fame may be in for some life realignment. These people will either surge even higher in the Twitter Hall of Fame or end up hoping their TikTok videos deliver what has been lost.

As I reflect on the coterie of Twitter addicts users and the fascinating management history of the company, I come back to the question, “How fragile is Twitter?”

One can argue that it survived with a part time boss, technical failures which involved a very happy beluga icon, and appearing at the bottom of high-tech social media company revenue disappointments. Thus, Twitter is robust, a survivor, a resilient digital creature.

On the other hand, Twitter is engaged in a legal spat with the mercurial Mr. Musk. Twitter is in the news because it loses executives who allege silly technical policies. Twitter is getting love from the tweeters who depend on the service for fame and sales leads. The internal cohesion of a wild and crazy high tech outfit like Google makes Twitter look like a stack of objects stacked by inebriated college students.

I don’t have a dog’s musk gland in the Twitter fight. What I can say is, “Twitter. Interesting.”

Stephen E Arnold, August 25, 2022

Yandex: Has Russia Embraced the Chinese Approach to Social Media and Online?

August 23, 2022

The answer to the question “Has Russia Embraced the Chinese Approach to Technology?” is, “Seems like it.”

Like China, Russia has come to understand the power and threat online services represent to the entities holding nation state power. Technology companies which follow different rules than “regular” countries have to be brought under control or killed outright. Russia is into control.

Vkontakte top dog is the scion of Mr. Putin’s top dog. If you are into Russian names, the boss of Vkontakte is Vladimir Kirienko. Mr. Putin’s confidante and senior administrator is Sergei Kirienko. But a tame CEO  is not enough. Threats have to be put in a cage and made subject to a higher power, not people with mobile phones.

Vkontakte is a semi-Facebook, just in Russian. It has about 100 million users. The company’s properties include Mail.ru, the social network Odnoklassniki, and a food delivery outfit. According to “Yandex Reaches Binding Deal to Divest News Service, Homepage to VK”:

Yandex said it is pursuing a “strategic exit from its media businesses” with the sale of Yandex.News, Yandex.ru and the Yandex.Zen blogging tool to VK. The Yandex.ru domain will be renamed dzen.ru under VK’s control and further development. Yandex’s main page — with search, mail and non-media tools — will be renamed ya.ru.

What happens to Yandex email addresses? In addition to being read and analyzed by the watch dogs, the future of Yandex mail is fuzzy.

The key take away for me is that China and Russia recognize the threat social media and online information pose. If these nation states’ concerns are valid, will countries with uncontrolled social media operating without meaningful oversight and regulation tear themselves apart?

China’s and Russia’s strategic military thinkers could be anticipating this result. Which view is correct? Social media is the Zucker’s view of bringing people together or the opposite?

Interesting question to consider.

Stephen E Arnold, August 23, 2022

Ah, Ha! The Social Media Conundrum?

August 8, 2022

Facebook and Twitter both began as humble undergrad side projects. Both platforms, and social media in general, have since mutated into something much more consequential. That is why The Next Web declares “Social Media Companies Should Be Converted Into Nonprofits.” Writer David Ryan Polgar asserts:

“Social media companies like Twitter have morphed — whether their founders intended them to or not — into important social institutions with grave consequences for both the future of democracy and the human condition. Yet these platforms still remain constrained by their structures as for-profit companies with a duty to their shareholders. Whether Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk (if the Twitter deal goes through) are acting in the best interest of the public as they lead their respective companies is missing the larger point: They should never have such unchecked power. To allow such is to enter a future where the public is vulnerable to billionaires’ whims as they shape the future of communication. That isn’t a future I’d want to live in.”

You mean we cannot trust a few billionaires to navigate the fine line between protecting free expression and reigning in hate speech, misinformation, and other harmful content? While such a balance is tricky even for governments, Polgar notes, at least there voters have some say in who is making these choices. The write-up continues:

“Twitter’s growth into a ‘de facto public town square,’ I would argue, should necessitate its radically reimagining its business structure, transforming into a nonprofit or benefit corporation, which is a legal structure that includes the overall benefit to society as an objective of the business, not just maximizing profits. If the platform immensely affects the public — as both Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk argue it does — its business model should serve the public interest and not shareholders or the ego of a company leader.”

We cannot argue with that last sentiment, but not all nonprofits benefit society as one would hope. The other direction implied here would be to make social media platforms into government entities, an idea that would float as well as a lead balloon in today’s climate. So what is society to do? The solution continues to elude as we chug along in a landscape paved by social media.

Cynthia Murrell, August 8, 2022

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