Twitter Fights Back

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg shocked everyone when he offered to buy Instagram for a billion dollars.  A measly mobile app that’s functionality was limited to editing photos and viewing pictures shared by others, Instagram did not seem to have much to offer Facebook.  Now, it seems the buy was a move towards social networking dominance.

While Instagram was not a very intimidating competitor, it did threaten to take over a sector of Facebook’s functionality, just as Twitter has done.  Twitter has started monopolizing status updates – would Instagram have monopolized photo sharing?  Facebook preemptively struck, not waiting to find out what could have been.

And now, it has used Instagram to start a public battle with Twitter.  As mentioned in my presentation today, Twitter took some functionality from Facebook by moving status updates to a new platform and ultimately making status updates on Facebook less socially acceptable.  It is also rapidly growing, while Facebook seems to be bottoming out.

Instagram announced late last week that it would no longer support sharing through Twitter.  While the CEO claimed this move was solely to increase traffic to Instagram’s website, it is clear this act damages the user experience of Twitter.  Before Facebook bought Instagram, Instagram and Twitter had a great relationship, as Instagram wanted to reach as many social networks as possible.  It worked with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and foursquare to extend its reach.  Now, it is only interested in promoting Facebook’s interests and fighting Facebook’s battles.

Most commonly, people post photos on Instagram and then opt to also share these photos on Twitter and Facebook, an act that can be done through a simple button.  Now, if people only want to post and edit once, they will need to choose between the Instagram to Facebook combo and Twitter.

The newest update for Twitter includes filters.  This seemingly simple change represents Twitter’s acknowledgement of the impending battle Facebook has started.  It is clear Facebook wants social media domination, and sees Twitter as a threat to that.


Find Your “Stalkers”


Over-excited statuses much like this one have started to circulate around Facebook, and I have no doubt they will go viral within the next few days (though I have only seen one so far, several of my friends have seen the same post from different sources).  Though it may have more validity than the average viral post, I fear it is yet another case of posting without fact checking.

The post does show promise.  Unlike scams that have hit Facebook in the past, promising to show your biggest stalkers but in actuality printing out random names, this list seems eerily correct.  In my case, and the case of many online, my “top” friends were people I interact with fairly regularly on Facebook and would consider my closest friends (for the most part).  So much so that I was at first very inclined to believe this list could tell me exactly who stalked me most on Facebook.

However, the fact that Facebook has not yet commented on the meaning of “ordered friends” makes me weary, and reminds me yet again that we cannot just blindly trust the posts of people online.  When I googled for its significance, I found a hodgepodge of even more hopelessly off-base answers, each asserted with conviction that it almost caused me to lose faith in everything I read online.

Some of these answers were:

– an alphabetical list of people on chat (incorrect, mine was not alphabetical)

– a random list of people on chat (incorrect, mine showed people not on chat)

– a random listing of Facebook friends (incorrect, mine showed my closest friends)

– most recent profile views (incorrect, mine did not change over time)

– total cumulative profile views (possible, but some of my top people I friended recently)

– a list of people who have viewed your profile most (possible)

– the people you have interacted with the most (possible)

Aside from the last three, which are still on the table, I was able to disprove most of the responses being heatedly argued within a matter of seconds.  But what does it actually mean? The most logical interpretation I can find is that it is a mix of the last three ideas – some sort of algorithm that weights different types of interactions on Facebook, such as messaging, tagged pictures together, posts, likes, profile views, and family trees.  Facebook has admitted to ranking friends they think users are closest to or most likely to care about so that they will show up most in your newsfeed – have we just unlocked this list?

While that may be the case, the majority of the people who repost this do not seem to know or care if it is factually correct.  In fact, the Facebook algorithm for closest friends seems boring compared to the promise of scandal embedded in the phrase “most profile views”.  A Gawker article about the algorithm was even titled “See a Secret List of Who You’re Stalking Most on Facebook” before delving into the deeper issues.

Facebook Activity – Emotional Effects

As Facebook creeps into every part of our lives, it is important to take a step back and consider what is on our personal pages, and the positive and negative emotional effects of this complete immersion into a social media culture.

If you do not worry about information posted by yourself or others potentially coming back to haunt you later, you are in the minority. Whether it be pictures from what is referred to as the “red solo cup days,” embarrassing photos in your room with friends, or wall posts from your now ex-boyfriend, information posted on your Facebook may not be data you want available to certain people now or in the future.  Recent studies show that this phenomenon has actually turned into a sizeable amount of stress for many Facebook users.

Ben Marder, a marketing fellow who did research on the subject, says, “Facebook used to be like a great party where you can dance, drink and flirt.  But now with your Mum, Dad and boss there the party becomes an anxious event full of potential social landmines.”  This added element of anxiety seems to correlate with number of Facebook friends – the more friends, the more stress that an activity or post will not sit well with a certain viewer.  Unsurprisingly, parents, relatives, and colleagues/bosses cause the greatest anxiety increase.

With so much stress arising from posts and friends, why do people bother?  Why post any pictures if you have to constantly worry about what is appropriate? Why accept the friend requests of people from work?  Well, it turns out Facebook can foster positive emotions as well.  It reportedly is helping change the workplace by humanizing those who use it.  Anxious your boss will see that photo of your two kids in precious Halloween costumes because you left work a couple hours early that day? Stressed your employees will see pictures of you with margaritas? If you can let that stress go, studies have shown Facebook can actually improve office relationships by slowly introducing parts of personal lives that may have been hidden.

Overall, while stress is never a welcomed sentiment, a healthy amount of anxiety can make sure your Facebook activity stays in check.  If you aren’t worried about that Facebook video of vandalizing the school, you may have an arrest coming your way.  However, general day to day actions should not be fretted about and can help make yourself seem more human and real to those surrounding you.

Keeping Children Safe – The Practical Way

Coinciding with our in class discussion today on cyber bullying and laws to protect children online was the signing of a joint declaration between the European Union and the US Department of Homeland Security.  This declaration intends to work on online safety for children, and it announces that the two countries will make this a joint effort.  The European Union has always had stricter privacy laws regarding the Internet than the United States, so it does not surprise me that Homeland Security would want to partner with them in the campaign to protect young people who use the Internet.

Of course, the Internet is potentially the most difficult place to keep safe due to the relative anonymity of its users.  Traditionally, this meant predators could impersonate others; today, the roles are reversed.  While predators can still disguise their identities, children also have incentive to lie.  In an attempt to keep the young people safe, and in response to COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), many sites ask for the age of users.  However, with kids under thirteen able to lie about their age, website providers cannot tell which users are of age, and are consequently unable to properly protect them.

This perpetual cycle makes protecting kids on the Internet through laws nearly impossible.  This joint declaration proposes a different focus for online safety – through education.  Instead of imposing more stringent laws, it centers on educating both parents and children on Internet safety and risk awareness.  This approach ensures that when children do access sites (which they inevitably will, with or without a birthday check), they know how to properly use the website and avoid bad situations.  In February, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will join in participating in the European Union’s Safer Internet Day for young people.

I think this approach will be most effective because it is the most practical.  If you tell children not to go on certain websites because they are not allowed or it is not safe, they will not know how to avoid hazards when they inevitably gain access to the site.  For example, studies show 38% of kids on Facebook are under the minimum age, so clearly rules are not stopping them.  However, if you acknowledge they will probably find ways onto the Internet and educate them so they can properly handle themselves, they will be able to maximize the potential (socially and educationally) of the Internet.


The Evolution of Facebook “Likes”

What is the purpose of Facebook “likes”, and how does that effect what they mean in society today?  I remember the excitement accompanied by first setting up a Facebook account.  After finding friends, the next step was clear – find people, shows, organizations, and pages to “like.”  At the time, public appearances seemed to be the primary goal of this process.  What would people see when they looked at your page? What kind of person did you want to look like?

This sentiment was exemplified by the popularity of “funny” pages that people liked.  In addition to liking movies and activities, you could like pages with funny titles.  Some of my sister’s (added years ago) include “Using the excuse ‘you’ll never see that person again’”, “Doing your chores like a ninja when your parents pull into the driveway”, “Track is not a sport, it’s running in circles”, and “IT SHOULD SNOW IN NEWPORT BEACH”.  In contrast to the rest of her likes, these pages exist merely to show her beliefs and reveal comments she identifies with to all of her Facebook friends.  Back in the day, many of my friends had hundreds of these types of “liked” pages on their profile.

Today, however, the motivation behind Facebook likes has shifted.  The aforementioned pages’ activity has declined significantly, and Facebook has even made them less visible on people’s profiles.  While music, books, movies, shows, people, and games remain fairly central to the profile, one must click a “Show Other Pages” link to even see the titles of the other pages the user has liked.  This change shows that people are using the “Like” button for a different purpose.

Now, more emphasis is put on Facebook’s actual effect.  After liking a page, news from that page begins to show up in the news feed.  Therefore, people are more inclined to like pages that will give them news they care about.  This ranges from political figures sending out messages to companies offering specials and information on their products.

With the motivation behind Facebook likes explained, its new purpose in society can be revealed.  Yes, they now serve an actual purpose in society that Facebook could never even claim to have foreseen.  Financial analysts are using Facebook ‘likes’ to predict companies’ worth.

Yes, you read correctly.  Studies have actually shown that 99.95% of the change in daily share price can be explained by the change in fan counts.  This finding could revolutionize the way many aspects of the stock market are examined and the way users approach Facebook likes.

(Also, as a side note to connect this concept to the election last week, Romney’s popularity falls drastically on Facebook every minute.  The website “Disappearing Romney” tracks his like count in real time, and it shows he loses approximately 847 likes per hour. This number initially shocked me, as I did not realize how actively people went back and “unliked” things on Facebook – it seemed more effort than it was worth.  However, this new analysis of likes and the knowledge that enough people like and unlike for the data to be of use to financial analysts brings some clarity to the issue.)


Social Media Statistics – Can They Represent This Country?

“There is going to be a national election that is going to be about the Internet the way that 1960 was about TV for the first time with the Kennedy/Nixon debate.” Marc Andreeson, a prognosticator, told this to reporters as he predicted 2012 as the last ‘social media’ election. And it appears he could be on the right track – spending on Internet ads was prevalent this election.

And it appears to have paid off.  Obama spent much more on online campaigning than Romney, and an info-graphic showed Obama winning the social media election two full months ago.  While Obama and Romney had a comparable amount of Facebook mentions, Obama doubled the amount of YouTube videos and Bing searches and had 25 times the amount of tweets.  He also had at least twice as many Facebook likes, retweets, and YouTube action.

When I first saw this data, I wondered how accurately it would end up reflecting the election results.  After all, I associate most of those sites with the younger generation, which happens to include a larger proportion of Obama supporters.  Although it appeared Obama would be winning by a landslide, perhaps Romney has far more supporters who are not as active on social media sites.

What really caught my eye, along these same lines, was the fact that Obama had 25 times as many Twitter mentions.  This is much more than the two to one lead he had on other social media sites.  However, this makes more sense when considering the demographic of people who use Twitter.  A quarter of all young people (18-29) online have a Twitter account, which is double the rate of 30-49 year olds, and significantly greater than people over 50.  These statistics fit with the voter statistics for people aged 18-29 – 135% more of them reported to have voted for Obama.

So what does this mean for social media statistics? While they may be skewed towards the younger generation’s views, they did end up predicting the outcome of this election, suggesting the views of the younger generation may be reflected in the population of the rest of the country.  Or, it is possible that more of the older generation may be online than we think.

Be Careful What You Put On Facebook (In More Ways Than Ever)

In this course, we have learned about the (sometimes surprising) extent of Facebook’s data collection.  The company keeps exhaustive files on every user that include deleted messages, and it stored all photos even from deactivated accounts.  It also allows third party applications to have access to information on our accounts and our friends’ accounts.

The last way it uses our information is for advertisement profiling.  This is an aspect of Facebook’s data collection that, while concerning to some users, seems to be well within the ethical realm of what Facebook can do with our data.  After all, Facebook is a business, and its goal is to make money.  Nobody can blame them for trying to maximize the ad potential by profiling users.  It can also lead to a better user experience – a targeted ad has a much higher potential to be of use to users.

Yet recently, Facebook may have crossed a line with its profiling.  It is unclear at this point, but it may have extended from giving information to applications and advertisers to providing insurance companies with data that could actually be detrimental to one’s insurance rates.  For example, people who “like” motorcycles or are friends with people who sky dive could be deemed higher risk.

Even if Facebook is not specifically providing insurance companies with this data, the companies are using data mining services to get information on people through their Facebook profiles.  This way, crosschecking applications with profiles is made simple, as algorithms can do all of the work.  They can also assign “scores” to mass amounts of people based on their likes and posts.  Just last year, a woman’s sick leave benefits were cut after her insurance company claimed she was not depressed due to pictures of her “having a good time” were posted on Facebook.  If Facebook is not working with the insurance companies, it is unclear how they are gaining access to private posts.

I think this use of Facebook data is completely unreasonable and should not be allowed.  It crosses from manipulating the user experience of Facebook into an invasion of people’s real lives. If Facebook is indeed providing information to insurance companies, I foresee an extremely negative impact on Facebook’s reputation.  Not only would I expect court cases and a potential investigation by the FTC, but also a change in people’s use of Facebook and their perception of this social media network.  People have known for a while it may not be a safe space for pictures of partying or inappropriate behavior, but if Facebook is no longer a safe space for even expressing acceptable interests and activities, it will fall a long way.

Twitter – Then and Now

I remember how I first heard about Twitter. It was not through a news article, or an advertisement. Rather, the news came from our beloved discussion topic – Facebook. I logged on one day, early in high school, to an outpouring of Facebook statuses regarding Twitter.

“How dumb – Twitter is just Facebook statuses.”

“Why would I want to stay updated on every second of people’s lives – that’s so narcissistic.” The sentiment in these statuses was mirrored in all of the others. While wording varied slightly, everyone seemed to agree – Twitter was pointless. Why would anyone leave Facebook to make a status? Aside from being able to easily post Facebook statuses, Facebook also had the advantage of connecting users with all of their current friends. Move to Twitter, and you have to reestablish your network.

Had Twitter’s purpose been merely to recreate Facebook status updates on a new platform, it would never have succeeded. The switching cost of creating a new network would have far outweighed any potential appeal. And for a while, it did. At least within my social network. Nobody wanted to try Twitter, and the few adventurous friends of mine who joined immediately branded it as “lame” and “pointless.”

So why the shift? Today, most of my friends have Twitter accounts, and even several of my teachers, family friends, and friend’s parents are online. While I am merely speculating from my own personal experience, I believe this shift arose because Twitter began to create its own niche in the market. People began to view Twitter as a way to keep up to date on news stories, view entertaining commentary, and even participate in conferences (as stated by our very own special guest).

This way, Twitter was able to create a new place for itself. There was no longer a “switching cost” associated with getting a Twitter account – it was now an add-on. As this popular thinking shifted, Twitter gained popularity and users, and it expanded its network (thus adding value, as stated by Metcalfe’s law). Miraculously, it was even able to take over the idea of Facebook statuses. Now, when people post insightful or interesting statuses on Facebook, the common sentiment is that it belongs in a tweet, not on a newsfeed. Looking back a couple years and thinking about what a massive shift this is, I am impressed with how Twitter was able to (perhaps unintentionally) take over one of the social media giant’s features.

All That Facebook Knows

The amount of data Facebook has is almost inconceivable, because Facebook can track so many different aspects of people’s lives. We began the class discussing data we give to Facebook (like gender, birthday, and friends), and whether or not this data should be passed to third party applications. But since then, we have learned about the sheer amount of other data Facebook has, and this continually blows my mind. They have information on our likes and interests, those of our friends, and the advertisements that appeal to us. They are even sent information from partnering sites, like JCrew, about what you look at while logged into Facebook in the same browser.

While this may seem like a lot – an excessive amount even – it is not all. A German law student, Max Schrems, began a campaign against Facebook last year to expose to the world all that they know and track, as well as attempt to change their policies. Using a provision of Irish law, Schrems was able to obtain all of the information Facebook keeps on him (which was 1,222 PDF files). The volume and scope of that data shocked him – and me, upon reading about it.

I suppose maybe I should not have been shocked – all of the information pertains to the individual’s use of Facebook. Still, it is information people do not realize Facebook is tracking and keeping on file.



This picture for example, tracks the times he logged onto Facebook in a five week span, as well as the times he sent Facebook messages. All of these Facebook messages were also in the PDF files, including messages he had deleted. Additionally, Facebook uses the GPS tracking stored in iPhone photos to pinpoint places people go, even if they choose not to share this location information publicly on Facebook.

As previously stated, I guess I should not be surprised. All of these data sets directly relate to Schrem’s use of Facebook, and he probably consented in some form or another in the terms of agreement. Still, is it necessary for Facebook to track each user so extensively? What value, as far as personalized advertising, does old Facebook messages have? And why are the times he logs onto Facebook stored by individual user, rather than in a large, anonymized data set?

More and more questions like these ones kept popping into my mind until I stepped back for a second to reflect. Was I being unreasonable? Do all companies keep such extensive logs of their clients? The answer, it seems, is no to both of these questions. Using this same platform, Schrems filed a complaint claiming 22 violations of European law. He also began Europe vs. Facebook, a movement that has gained over 40,000 followers who have all contacted Facebook in Ireland requesting all information held on them by Facebook.

He has made some progress educating people about what information Facebook holds as well as making Facebook’s data more available to users. However, there is still much further to go. If it were truly easily accessible, most people in this class would read this post, get curious, and go download their data. Let’s see how many actually do – that will be the true test.

Law Prohibits Children Under 13 on Facebook

Zheng’s blog post explored children on Facebook, and his own views on why the age limit of 13 should be lifted.  But it got me thinking – why is there an age limit on Facebook? Zheng mentioned “cyberbullying, online predators, and computer viruses,” but is it more than that?

I began my research by trying to understand the logic behind Facebook’s official policy.  As it turns out, the age restriction is not one put in place because Facebook has a fundamental problem with preteens using social media networks.  Instead, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates the age restriction.  The law, signed in 1998 and put into effect in 2000, prohibits websites that “collect personal information” from allowing children under 13 to join.

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