Tag Archive for: online behavior

icon for social media sharing
icon for social media sharing

Is it me, or has social media become calmer?

I’ve seen a lot less angst and anger on my Facebook (less so on Twitter). But even NextDoor seems to be taking a breather from politics and wedge issues.

About to shake hands

Has social media calmed down? Image: johnhain/Pixabay

For my part, I’ve followed suit by posting less social commentary on my personal FB page and sharing funny stuff like Cat Dad. I’ve also focussed more on the pages for my books and this business.

For its part, Facebook has even put ads on my feed that actually interest me.

LinkedIn, which was coming dangerously close to Facebook-like posting, seems to have settled back down to actual business.

All this is a relief. I honestly can’t remember if the lower temperature on social media is a return to normalcy or if the platforms have removed the bad players. I suspect it’s both.

Monitoring Social Media Behavior

We all know that Facebook and Twitter suspended accounts of certain parties that used the platforms to rev up their bases, sometimes into violence.  Since then, the deplorables (to use a term) have migrated to other platforms where their “first amendment rights were respected” or are using the Dark Web to communicate.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to social media as these platforms are not owned or operated by the government. Owners have every right to set standards and enforce them as long as they do so equally to all parties. Anyway, their decampment has no doubt contributed to the overall quieter atmosphere.

Platforms are Expanding As Social Media Calms Itself

I thought Facebook was actually contracting, but as Shira Ovide, who writes the On Tech column for The New York Times, reports in a recent email, it’s actually expanded quite a bit into new territory, including:

  • Podcasts
  • Chatrooms (remember those?)
  • Dating services (!)
  • Office communication tools

It’s also got the Marketplace and a job listing space.

NextDoor, the other social media place I like to check for fun, has also mostly returned to civility. It’s almost like platforms have been Ferberized.

Calm smiley faces

Calmer times on social media. Image: johnhain/Pixabay

Much of the political fighting and name-calling have evaporated. Now you can once again read up on lost pets and find stuff for sale or for free. It’s as if social media has discovered self-soothing.

This being Arizona, there are occasional Next Door posts that with headlines like “Want to get the migrants out of Scottsdale?” It’s dispiriting but it’s also more of an exception these days.

NextDoor began expanding its business services at least a couple of years ago, encouraging people to recommend local businesses and prompting a listing when you type in a recommendation for something like jewelry repair.

Next Door Groups is sort of new. I was invited to one that sounded innocent enough, something like Neighbors Who Care, but it turned out to be a fairly extremist (at least by my standards) political group.  I was tempted to remain in the group to see what crazy stuff would show up, but frankly, Trump-like politics exhaust me. And I wrote a book about the guy!

Lately, I’m Enjoying Social Media Again

I avoided a lot of social media for about 12 weeks. The exceptions were work-related.

I’m so glad to report that my ND feed features lots of wildlife videos lately. Some of it is quite amazing: a bald eagle soaring over Chaparral Lake in Scottsdale and bobcat and coyote sightings. My favorites are the wild parakeets, descended from ancestors that literally escaped their cages and nested in certain parts of South Scottsdale.

I was particularly alarmed when I began seeing political commentary on LinkedIn last fall. I always thought of LI as a safe place to read about, you know, business stuff like marketing and new technology. I’m relieved it’s back to linking people instead of dividing them.

What’s the Future of Social Media?

What should we expect in social media going forward?

I think it’s safe to say that platforms will assert their rules and regs, at least if they intend to run a business. No one wants to be the next Parler, which is now “essentially homeless,” to borrow a phrase from The Guardian‘s Malaiki Jabali. There are consequences to allowing your platform to be used to organize violent “demonstrations” like the January 6 riot in DC.

Here’s what we can expect to see more of on social media:

  • Videos, especially DIY ones
  • More responsive customer service
  • More niche platforms that cater to certain industries and demographics

As a (mostly) nonfiction writer, I worry about how video and streaming will affect content and accuracy. Disinformation got social media into a lot of trouble with regulators, Congress, and many of us in the public. It’s more difficult to suss out disinformation on video (hello, Tucker Carlson), and it will be especially difficult to monitor “ephemeral” content that posts for a limited time.

Google has always stressed accountability, and I can only hope that it will continue to do so, perhaps warning or at least explaining editorial content versus news on its SERPs. A lot of people don’t seem to understand the difference.

I was a little heartened to read on Sprout Social that consumers want to see more emphasis on kindness. Yes, kindness. If you’re selling a brand, or are branding your services, let people know the good stuff you and your employees do outside work. Did you adopt a highway or support a recycling event? (This is one of my favorite  Scottsdale markets, hosted by a shopping center and local Boy Scouts.) Let people know what you’re up to!

Finally, stories will continue to be a central theme. I’m not just talking about Facebook and Instagram stories, but stories as a theme for your business.

How to Tell a Story for Social Media

How do you write a story? Start with writing about what happens at work – how you came up with a new design, what inspired you to repaint the store, and how you found your latest great hire.

As you get further into this, make sure your stories are inclusive. At least some of the angst on social media comes from people feeling unseen and/or unheard. Don’t just write about the employee whose kid won a college scholarship, but keep an ear out for ideas from other employees.

Chalkboard: What's Your Story?

Create stories about and around your business. Image: 742680/Pixabay

Here’s a good start: what do the kids they know (their own, family members, neighbors) engage in over the summer or school holidays?

  • It could be as mundane-sounding as a few days with grandparents, but I’ll bet this was a highlight for the grands.
  • Did a middle schooler learn to cook a full dinner? That’s a load off of working parents who rush home to start dinner at a decent hour.
  • Did a customer send an especially nice note?

Be sure to occasionally mention events like these on your social media and even your website blog or testimonial page. They’ll help round out the story of your business and make it a more interesting read or video.

Cartoon of faceless call center employees with laptops and headsets
Cartoon of faceless call center employees with laptops and headsets

We’ve entered a whole new world of spam – scam spam, if you will.

Have you been getting more of the same spam calls lately? Of course you have. There must be an explosion of auto warranty “providers” if spam from the past year – maybe more – is anything to go by.

I’ve even seen a meme on Facebook about the first call to Alexander Graham Bell telling him that his auto warranty has expired.

The Eras Before Spam Scam

I think it’s safe to say phone spam was spawned by the creation of call centers. Many were selling legitimate services and products, from subscriptions to local entertainment (I once sold subscriptions to the Washington Symphony) to life insurance. It was innocent enough but I do recall a lot of people asking me to please stop calling them. I call this era Spam 1.0.

What I call spam scam (you read that right) began in earnest as email use soared and ushered in the era of Spam 2.0. You probably remember the Nigerian general’s widow who needed you to send her a large check so she could unlock her late husband’s million-dollar bank account. You would be rewarded with a reimbursement ten times over. An amazing number of people who should have known better fell for this.

Spam 3.0 came about with text messaging. Someone decided that this was a great way to conduct legitimate sales, a sort of upgrade on Spam 1.0. Again, some of this came from legitimate businesses, but it turned out to be about as popular with consumers as Spam 1.0.

For at least the past few years, we’ve been dealt a combination of scams and spam – more annoying, more invasive, and harder to avoid. We get it every day, sometimes the same message multiple times, and even from different incoming numbers.

Privacy Laws Tried to Get a Handle on Spam

The advent of Spam 3.0 helped stop some of the text spam by requiring organizations to proactively get permission to text special offers or whatever to mobile phones. This tied messaging to the same requirements for email marketing. I think the general unpopularity of text marketing did as much to discourage this. It’s also a lot easier to text back “STOP” then it is to follow all the links and questions when you have the nerve to unsubscribe to an email newsletter.

Ironically, just as I was writing this blog, I got the first spam text I’d seen in months. I have no idea who it came from, so I marked it “read” and blocked it. Interestingly, my phone service asked if I want to report this – something it no longer bothers to do with phone spam.

Whatever Happened to the Do Not Call Service?

You’re forgiven if you still think the Do Not Call Registry is supposed to take care of phone spam. It can, but only to an extent that leaves it pretty toothless. It might be more accurate to say it used to be effective.

The Registry wasn’t too bad back when it was set up in 2003 by federal anti-spam legislation. The early anti-spam laws let people call the registry and key-in phone numbers were compiled into lists sent to telemarketers. If a telemarketer continued to call people they weren’t supposed to bother, they were subjected to fines.

The type of spam that spurned the Do Not Call Registry seems so innocent today. You can register and re-register with it and still get calls from the “Social Security Agency” warning you that your identity has been stolen, or from people who want to give you a free leg brace.

The Registry itself can’t enforce laws. All it can do is collect information. The only improvement I can think of since 2003 is that you can now visit it online to enter your phone number. It’s important to understand that it does not prohibit calls from charities, political parties, debt collectors, and surveys. It cannot block text spam or email spam.

The Technologies Behind Scam Spam

Most of us know we should just hang up on these guys and block the number they called from. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always stop them from contacting you over and over again.

Spammers and scammers use tools like VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services created for legitimate call center call management. They use this technology to call several numbers at once in an effort to find someone, anyone, who will answer a phone.

You can often tell if a call is scam spam when VOIP is used. There is often a moment of silence after you say “hello” while the technology transfers your call to a recorded message or live “agent.” This moment of silence is when you should hang up. With some luck, the software won’t register that you picked up the call and call you at another time.

Spoofing technology lets scammers call the same number over and over again from what appear to be different numbers. If you didn’t pick up an unfamiliar number (a good practice although it can fill up your voicemail), they’re gambling that you might pick up a call with the same exchange as yours.

This might fool some people who grew up with landlines with exchanges that were, in fact, based on where you lived. It’s not the same with mobile phones, which randomly assign numbers within an area code. However, some people might not understand this and are fooled by a familiar-looking number. Here’s a good overview of spoofing technology from the Minnesota Attorney General’s office.

Answering these calls make you a target for more annoying calls from different phone numbers – even if you hang up quickly. One afternoon last year, I answered a call that turned out to be spam. I hung up and blocked the number. Then, every minute for the next 20 or so, the same call came from different numbers. Even worse, they left voice messages. It didn’t take long for my voicemail to reach capacity.

Who’s Behind All These Spam Scams?

I work part-time providing phone captioning services to deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Many of them are elderly. And boy, scams targeting them are alive and well. I’m glad to report that the vast majority of these calls are quickly recognized and disconnected. The days of senior citizens wiring money to bail a grandson out of jail or buy gift cards to pay off a supposed debt are rapidly fading.

US-based scams (or those that rely upon native English speakers) usually pose as fundraisers for veterans, breast cancer survivors, or police. AI technology lets scammers program recorded voices to say “hello?” a few times until the call recipient answers back. Then the scan begins a spiel about whatever it claims to support, usually asking if the target will accept a prepaid envelope and send a $50 donation. Many AI-backed scams can counter a refusal and ask if a lower amount – say, $35 – is easier to spare. And they keep pressuring until the callers hang up. I’ve never heard someone say to go ahead and send an envelope.

There used to be a scam that was so corny it was eventually dropped. “Oh good, you picked up,” a deep-voiced fake caller would say. “I was about to get my answering machine voice ready.” And then “he” would go on to talk about supporting “our men and women in blue.”

India is a big actor in phone fraud. They’re still using live “agents” with poor English language skills, working from call centers using VOIP. Almost all their calls begin with ten and even 15-second delays to answer back because “agents” are usually monitoring several calls at once. These calls claim to be from “Medicare Agency,” “U.S. Medicare,” and so on. I’ve heard a handful of them successfully persuade their targets to give their Medicare numbers to get a free leg or arm brace (it’s always a brace). Typically, these calls are handed off two or three times until a native English speaker claiming to be a licensed insurance agent seals the deal.

Young man on mobile phone

“My Medicare ID? I’m like 25!”

These calls may be at least partly aided by the fact that there are a lot of Indian physicians in the US – one in seven according to The India Times. Many elderly people will at least listen to someone calling about a medical or health service until they hang up or just as often, politely decline.

Another scam out of India offers a refund on computer services that were never purchased in the first place. Targets are assured they did purchase these services, which must be refunded by court order. Here’s The New York Times’s coverage of this particular scam.

Unfortunately, the people behind scam spam are clever and persistent. Unlike the old-fashioned spam that just bugged you to buy products or services (some with questionable value), these people want your personal data. They’ll use it to tap into your bank, credit cards, insurance – the opportunities are apparently endless. Many sell the data they get – even incomplete data – on the dark web.

Block that Spam!

Many people won’t answer a call from a number they don’t recognize. If a call is important, they’ll leave a voicemail, right?

It turns out that scam spammers leave voicemails, too. You end up devoting some time every few days to delete them or they’ll fill up your message box. At least you can block and delete them in the same process. It’s also a good idea to go through your phone logs and delete unfamiliar numbers that call you more than a few times each day.

If you find you’re getting a ton of spam, contact your phone provider as I did. Even if you’re good about updating your phone, you can still get caught in a loop like I did. The telecom companies can track your incoming calls and determine a pattern to block them. I’m sure this compromises privacy in some way but what’s private anymore, anyway?

Legitimate Businesses Must Avoid Looking Spammy

Spam scam actions are harming legitimate outreach and marketing. Organizations with an actual purpose have to be extra careful, especially if they’re cold-calling people.

HomeSmart is an online service that seems to have recognized this early on. I’ve used them several times to get some quotes for projects ranging from a new I immediately got about three calls and a couple more the next day.

A mere 12 hours after I placed the request, HomeSmart called me to ask if I’d received information and would I like to turn off my request.  Yes, please.

I still received calls a day later. Since HomeSmart has a pretty good reputation for vetting the vendors it recommends, I’m sure these people were OK. But this is another twist to phone marketing that makes email marketing look even better.

Photo credits: Peggy_Marco, bluelightpictures/Pixabay

stack of books on fire
stack of books on fire

Hint: It applies to something even bigger than social media.

For many people, the First Amendment (and for some, the Second Amendment) is the face of the Constitution.

Many people asked if, or accused, social media sites of violating President Trump’s First Amendment rights after they banned him following the riot and break-in at the U.S. Capitol. After all, Trump has just as much a right to post on these sites, doesn’t he? The First Amendment guarantees it, right? Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all these sites are practicing illegal censorship, right?

Wrong. The First Amendment doesn’t affect companies or even people as long as content doesn’t violate U.S. laws. That means media companies (or really, any entity that has a communications arm) can’t knowingly publish or broadcast content which:

  • It knows is untrue
  • Presents a “clear and present danger” to public safety
  • Breaks laws meant to prevent specific criminal acts like child abuse or child pornography
  • Abuses the personal rights of individuals or groups through unlawful discrimination

The First Amendment Only Targets the Government 

Only governments have to obey the First Amendment when it comes to freedom of speech and the press. It was written to keep governments from censoring or trying to control what’s reported in the press. At the time, this meant newspapers, leaflets, and books.

Even though most social media companies are public companies and provide a useful service, they are not required to follow the First Amendment. What they must do is clearly state their expectations and apply them evenly to everyone who uses their platforms.

Images of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the US Constition.
List of grievances (Declaration of Independence) covered by the Constitution. Image: Lynn0101/Pixabay

Like it or not, Twitter and other social media platforms can suspend or ban users who violate the terms of agreement they checked off when they joined. Because of their oversize impact, social media companies have historically tolerated a wide range of content and used penalties like warnings for violators before taking more drastic steps.

As long as they treat everyone the same, they are acting perfectly legally if someone breaks a rule and gets the same treatment used in similar cases.

Being Nice Is not The Press’ Role

The media doesn’t exist to be nice to Presidents or anyone else, with the exception of children and young animals. The Founders understood this pretty well.

Different parts of press played a huge role to drum up support or oppose the events that led to the American Revolution. Many of our Founding Politicians themselves contributed to newspapers that supported their brand of politics, before and after the Revolution. These editorials or pamphlets were usually anonymous or printed under pen names like Caesar (Alexander Hamilton) and Senex, thought to be Patrick Henry.

Thomas Paine’s pro-U.S. pamphlet Common Sense was pretty radical even in 1776. It didn’t just object to the way Great Britain controlled the colonies. It challenged the whether a king should rule at all. Here’s a popular Common Sense soundbite:

“The folly of the hereditary rights on kings.”

Drawing of Thomas Paine with his signature: Yr humble servant Th Paine.
Your Humble Servant and George III’s – and later George Washington’s – Paine in the neck. Image: NYPL Digital Collection

I think it’s interesting the British didn’t take colonial media seriously. They were more focussed on collecting taxes to pay for expensive wars like the French and Indian War and to limit the colonies’ economic development.

After the war the press targeted those same Founders, even those they previously lionized. Most of the people now in authority didn’t take it well. President Washington was furious when the press mocked or made fun of his aristocratic manners. He certainly wasn’t amused by Paine’s scathing attacks on him:

“Treacherous in private friendship and a hypocrite in public life…the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any.” — Thomas Paine, on President Washington

Back in the day when Washington was leading the American Revolution, Paine only had great things to say about him. So why the vitriol later on when he was President? Well, Paine had gone to France to support its revolution and ended up being thrown in prison for crimes against the country. Washington didn’t want anything to do with the French Revolution and didn’t use any diplomacy to free Paine, which Paine understandably resented.

Thomas Jefferson once described how Washington absolutely lost it during a Cabinet meeting where someone brought a satirical news story about his supposed execution. Years later when he was President, Jefferson endured his share of insults in the press. People often read that he cared more about France than the U.S. There were persistent rumors the papers printed (later found to be true) that he had children with a slave.

Jefferson wasn’t happy about this. “I deplore… the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed,” he later wrote to a friend, “and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them.”

“I deplore… the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed.” – Thomas Jefferson

The Founders Would Have Tolerated Social Media, Too

Social media became another form of the press, even if its creators were in denial over this until recently. And like any media, our Founding Politicians would try to work with it or deplore it as rubbish.

But the Founders wouldn’t expect social media to follow the First Amendment because in this country, the press does not provide a government function or service.

I’d even bet some of our Founders would love tweeting. Who knows, maybe @TheRealAlexHamilton would quote song lyrics along with economic policy.

As Vice President, John Adams would at least have someone listening to him since he was rarely invited to Washington’s Cabinet meetings (apparently, he didn’t just show up like Mike Pence). I can imagine he’d tweet something like “my country has contrived for me the most insignificant office.”

The best would come from @TheRealBenjFranklin. Just imagine the retweets he’d get from these early sound bite gems:

  • “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead”
  • “You may delay, but time will not”
  • “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
Colorized version of a sketch of Benjamin Franklin at his desk.
Colorized for Twitter, no doubt. Image: NYPL Digital Collection

I’m wonder if anyone has claimed his Twitter handle…