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Instagram Faces More User Backlash as it Continues to Chase TikTok

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Instagram Faces More User Backlash as it Continues to Chase TikTok

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding Instagram’s home feed, which is now littered with recommended posts from accounts that I don’t follow, less and less compelling these days.

As has been well documented, Instagram has been chasing the TikTok dragon, by trying to re-align its home feed around recommended content from across the app, which then gives it a far broader pool of compelling posts to highlight in each users’ feed. TikTok has seen great success with this approach, which expands the pool of content that it can choose from beyond each users’ immediate connections, with the top-performing content approach then facilitating a more compelling, engaging ‘For You’ feed experience.

Except, it hasn’t really worked that way on IG, with its shift to more recommendations sparking significant user backlash, which has since forced Instagram to scale back its approach.

And just last week, Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri also admitted that it’s now also gone too far in pushing video in the app, which has turned even more users away.

So why hasn’t it worked – what does TikTok do better than Instagram in this respect, which makes its app compelling, while repelling IG users?

Part of it is expectation, and Instagram looking to shift away from what it once was. Instagram users have come to expect a certain experience in the app, and that makes it harder for IG to pull away from it – and thus far, the platform has been moving too quickly in its various pivots, which has annoyed users.

Instagram can still do this, it just needs to move more slowly. Which is what it’s now looking to do, with Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg still expecting to see AI recommendations double in the app over the next year. That’ll likely still annoy many Insta users, but if Instagram shifts to a more gradual integration, ramping up its recommendations and video pushes over time, it could still work, and enable IG to merge into TikTok’s territory.

It’s just that TikTok is still growing, really fast, and you can imagine that Mosseri and Co. will be feeling the pressure to keep up where they can, which is being hampered by user backlash.

But there is another element that’s often overlooked in TikTok’s rise – though many studies and research reports have clearly highlighted this as a significant concern.

TikTok, for better or worse, utilizes base human desires as a growth engine in the app. In other words, TikTok highlights a lot of half-dressed young men and women, as a means to maximize engagement, which Instagram doesn’t, at least not in the same way.

In my personal experience, TikTok has repeatedly pushed videos of bikini-clad young girls into my feed, despite my direct indications that I am not interested in this content. Of course, I’m well aware that this is algorithm based, and that the app will only show you more or less of what you engage with. But in this case, I have deliberately indicated to the app, in every instance, that I’m not interested in such, via the available prompts, as a means to test whether they keep coming up regardless. And they do – TikTok knows that this type of content will keep people coming back, despite the fact that it’s exposing these users in ways that are not entirely healthy.

That’s been the core criticism from many child health and safety advocates, who believe that TikTok promotes sexualized content at the expense of young users, many of whom are left with mental health issues as a result.

According to the American Psychological Association, the sexualization of girls directly correlates with difficulties in developing a ‘healthy sexual self-image’:

“Research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women – eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression or depressed mood.

TikTok feeds into such behaviors by pushing this type of content into user feeds, even if, as noted, they haven’t expressed an interest in such. My personal experience is anecdotal, but various other studies have found the same:

“Trends on TikTok are especially prone to this, and many young girls have taken to participating in trends that require a hypersexualisation of themselves, their attitudes and personalities, and their bodies. One might argue that some of these trends promote “body confidence”, however, the nature of these challenges involves the components of sexualisation that the American Psychological Association outlines.”

Where TikTok may be particularly harmful in this respect is in its advanced AI and entity identification, which enables it to show people more videos that they might like based on very specific traits.

Back in 2020, a leaked internal document showed that TikTok moderators had been instructed to suppress content that featured people who were ‘too ugly, poor, or disabled for the platform’. TikTok has said that such regulations were quickly removed from its guidance, but the very concept that TikTok is even able to do this, based partly on algorithm identification, suggests that its systems are able to use such parameters as ranking tools – which means that TikTok can, and likely does, use physical traits like this to show people more of what the like, and less of what they don’t.

In other words, TikTok’s AI can detect physical elements, and use them as matching parameters, in order to keep users scrolling. Extrapolate that to different body types, exposed skin, hair, eyes, etc.

That then opens up a whole other area of concern. 

As explained by BuzzFeed:

One of the most popular kinds of videos from TikTok’s users, who are mostly young and female, are lip-synch videos, where they dance and sing along with their favorite songs. These performances are sometimes sexualized by older men who lurk on the app, sending the young creators explicit messages and, in some cases, remixing the videos and dancing along with them via a TikTok feature called “duet.” And the platform doesn’t just overlook this kind of conduct, its core mechanics inadvertently facilitate it. It learns what you like and shows you more and more of it. It also reacts in real time, delivering an endless stream of similar videos, even if you aren’t logged in.”

In other words, if creepy lurkers keep liking videos of youngsters dancing, they’re going to keep coming up on his or her ‘For You’ page, while they’ll also be more specifically highlighted based on physical traits and types.

Instagram doesn’t match content in the same way, and while there are also issues with over-sexualization on IG as well, TikTok weaponizes this, in ways that Meta likely wouldn’t even risk, in fear of being taken to task in the media.

But TikTok gets away with it because of its personalized algorithms, because many users are afraid to point this out, for fear of exposing their own usage behaviors. But it seems like more than that – TikTok uses this as a key growth strategy, again utilizing carnal desires to lure people in, and keep them scrolling through the app.

In this sense, TikTok is not as harmless as viral dance trends might make it seem – though this also means that it’ll likely remain ahead of Instagram in this respect, at least for the time being.

Until IG takes a similar approach, and pushes more of this type of content into more user feeds, or TikTok gets pulled up on such as it allows more access into its algorithms.

Though I suspect that TikTok will resist opening up its black box of entity identification for this reason, which will enable it to keep on rising, while fueling more concerning trends.

That puts IG in an increasingly difficult position – but you can bet that Meta’s growing army of lobbyists in Washington will be pushing this angle at every opportunity.



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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

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Snapchat Adds 12 Million Users in Q4, Posts Lower Than Expected Revenue Result

Snapchat added 12 million more active users in Q4 2022, and Snapchat+ subscriptions continue to rise, but company revenue missed market estimates, in another mixed result for the private social app.

First off, on users – as noted, Snap added 12 million more actives, taking it to 375 million DAU.

As you can see, North American user growth is still flat, while European users saw a slight uptick. But it’s the ‘Rest of the World’, specifically India, which is driving Snap growth.

Which is helping to boost the overall usage numbers, and expand opportunity. But on the revenue side, it’s not pushing things forward in a significant way.

Snap Q4 2022

As you can see in this chart, Snapchat’s revenue has increased, but a key problem here is that it’s still reliant on the US and Canada for the majority of that spend, with other markets trailing well behind on the revenue front.

Snap Q4 2022

In this chart, you can see that Snap’s Revenue Per User has actually declined year-on-year – so while it is growing, it’s not bringing in revenue at equivalent scale, and it’s even going backwards in some respects.

Which is why its stagnant growth in North America is a problem – though Snap has also seen take-up of its Snapchat+ subscription service increase.

“In Q4, our subscription service Snapchat+ reached over 2.0 million paying subscribers. Snapchat+ offers exclusive, experimental, and pre-release features, and in Q4 we launched new features such as Custom Story Expiration and Custom Notification Sounds, providing subscribers with over 12 exclusive features.”

That’s a handy additional revenue stream, but as with all social media subscription services (including Twitter Blue), take-up is generally limited, and at 2 million subscribers, that’s still only 0.5% of Snapchat’s active user base that’s been willing to pay extra for these add-on elements.

Snap has also faced challenges in rebuilding its ad business, in the wake of Apple’s iOS 14 update, which has impacted data collection, and Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says they still have some way to go on this yet:

“We continue to face significant headwinds as we look to accelerate revenue growth, and we are making progress driving improved return on investment for advertisers and innovating to deepen the engagement of our community.”

Snap has seen improvement in its commerce integrations, which includes digital items for Bitmoji avatars which Snap is eventually looking to translate into real-world item sales as well. Snap also says that it’s facilitated over than 161 million product trials by over 35 million Snapchatters for Walmart, leveraging its Catalog-Powered Shopping Lenses at-scale.

Snapchat AR shopping

Those point to bigger opportunities, but right now, amid the broader economic downturn, and restrictions on data collection and targeting, Snapchat is in a tough spot, and will be for some time yet.

Essentially, then, you’re banking on Snap’s future, and its advanced tools that could help it better align with expanded AR and VR use. And Snap is seemingly in a good position on this front – though again, the impacts of the last year, which also forced Snap into lay-offs, will also have some effect.

Really, then, the results here are relative to your perspective.

For advertisers, more Snap users means more potential reach – but most of Snap’s growth is coming from outside the US. More advanced AR activations could become a bigger deal in future, but it depends on how you’re looking to connect, and product fit.

Investors won’t be overly happy with the numbers, but there are positive signs on the horizon. It’s just that the horizon, in this respect, remains well in the distance at this stage.

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Climate disinfo surges in denial, conspiracy comeback

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Climate disinfo surges in denial, conspiracy comeback

Activists of Extinction Rebellion hold a ‘die-in’ for climate action in Boston in July 2022 – Copyright AFP/File Joseph Prezioso

Roland LLOYD PARRY

False information about climate change flourished online over the past year, researchers say, with denialist social media posts and conspiracy theories surging after US environmental reforms and Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.

“What really surprised us this year was to see a resurgence in language that is reminiscent of the 1980s: phrases like ‘climate hoax’ and ‘climate scam’ that deny the phenomenon of climate change,” said Jennie King, head of civic action at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based digital research group.

Popular topics included the false claims that CO2 does not cause climate change or that global warming is not caused by human activity, said Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), a coalition of campaigners, in a report.

“Let me expose what the climate scam is actually all about,” read one of the most-shared tweets, cited in another survey by US non-profit Advance Democracy, Inc (ADI).

“It is a wealth transfer from you — to the global elite.”

– Twitter disinfo surge –

An analysis of Twitter messages — carried out for AFP by two computational social scientists at City, University of London — counted 1.1 million tweets or retweets using strong climate-sceptic terms in 2022.

Watchdogs are urging social media platforms to tackle climate disinformation – Copyright AFP Robyn Beck

That was nearly twice the figure for 2021, said researchers Max Falkenberg and Andrea Baronchelli. They found climate denial posts peaked in December, the month after Tesla billionaire Musk took over the platform.

Use of the denialist hashtag #ClimateScam surged on Twitter from July, according to analyses by CAAD and the US-based campaign group Center For Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).

For weeks it was the top suggested search term on the site for users typing “climate”.

CAAD said the reason for that was “unclear”, though one major user of the term appeared to be an automated account, possibly indicating that a malignant bot was churning it out.

ADI noted that July saw US President Joe Biden secure support for a major climate spending bill — subject of numerous “climate scam” tweets — plus a heatwave in the United States and Europe.

Climate denial posts also peaked during the COP27 climate summit in November.

– Blue-tick deniers –

A quarter of all the strongly climate-sceptic tweets came from just 10 accounts, including Canadian right-wing populist party leader Maxime Bernier and Paul Joseph Watson, editor of conspiracy-theory website InfoWars, the City research showed.

CCDH pointed the finger at Musk, who reinstated numerous banned Twitter accounts and allowed users to pay for a blue tick — a mark previously reserved for accredited “verified” users in the public eye.

“Elon Musk’s decision to open up his platform for hate and disinformation has led to an explosion in climate disinformation on the platform,” said Callum Hood, CCDH’s head of research.

Musk himself tweeted in August 2022: “I do think global warming is a major risk.”

Musk has also created a $100 million dollar prize for technology innovations shown to be effective in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But prolific climate change contrarians -– such as blogger Tony Heller and former coal executive Steve Milloy — have hailed him in their tweets.

– Conspiracy theories –

An analysis by Advance Democracy seen by AFP found the number of Twitter posts “using climate change denialism terms” more than tripled from 2021 to 2022, reaching over 900,000.

On TikTok, views of videos using hashtags associated with climate change denialism increased by 4.9 million, it said.

On YouTube, climate change denial videos got hundreds of thousands of views, with searches for them bringing up adverts for climate-denial products.

YouTube spokesperson Elena Hernandez told AFP that in response to the claim, certain climate-denial ads had been taken down.

TikTok and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment.

On Facebook, meanwhile, ADI found the number of such posts decreased compared to 2021, in line with overall climate change claims.

– Culture wars –

The CAAD report said climate content regularly features alongside other misleading claims on “electoral fraud, vaccinations, the COVID-19 pandemic, migration, and child trafficking rings run by so-called ‘elites’.”

Jennie King of ISD said: “We are definitely seeing a rise of out-and-out conspiracism. Climate is the latest vector in the culture wars.”

Given the reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing that human carbon emissions are heating the planet, raising the risk of floods, droughts and heatwaves, CCDH’s Hood emphasised the urgency of restricting the reach of misinformation.

“We would encourage platforms to think about the real harm that is caused by climate change,” Hood said, “so people who repeatedly spread demonstrably false information about climate are not granted the sort of reach that we see them getting.”

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Snap making changes to direct response advertising business

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Snap making changes to direct response advertising business

The company posted a net loss of $288.5 million, or 18 cents a share, including $34 million in charges from its workforce restructuring. That compared to a profit of $23 million, or one cent, a year earlier.

Snap ended the fourth quarter with 375 million daily users, a 17% increase. In the first three months of the year, the company estimates 382 million to 384 million people will use its platform daily.

Snap has become a bellwether for other digital advertising companies. Last year, it was the first to raise concerns about the slowdown in marketer spending online and to fire a significant number of employees—20% of its workforce—to cut costs in the face of falling revenue.

The company has spent the last two quarters refocusing the organization, cutting projects that don’t contribute to user and revenue growth.

In the first quarter, Snap expects the environment to “remain challenging as we expect the headwinds we have faced over the past year to persist.”

Investors will get additional information about the state of the digital ad market when Meta and Alphabet report earnings later this week.

—Bloomberg News

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