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Social media shaming is spiking during the coronavirus pandemic, for better or worse

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Big Brother is in your Facebook feed. And watching your Instagram account to see if you’re going anywhere besides the grocery store. And ready to troll you on Twitter for doing something selfish during the pandemic.

If you were part of the hordes that parked at Berthoud Pass last weekend to backcountry ski, we saw your car in the CDOT camera image that circulated online. Now the head of the state Department of Natural Resources, among others, is disappointed in you. “The pandemic is not a vacation,” agency executive director Dan Gibbs said, retweeting a photo of the snowy parking lot and paraphrasing the governor. “Selfish” was a popular response to the picture.

“PARENTS, WHERE ARE YOU?” shouted a Denver-area woman on Nextdoor, the ultimate neighbor-to-neighbor shaming platform even before the new coronavirus, complaining about a dozen high school-age kids playing volleyball. Another person threatened on Nextdoor to shoot pepper spray in the face of anyone who came too close on the trails.

Social media shaming obviously isn’t new, but it’s spiked during the outbreak of the new coronavirus. And while some of it is hurtful — and downright mean — it’s not all bad, say experts who have studied social media behaviors for years.

Gov. Jared Polis’ #DoingMyPartCO is essentially peer-pressuring Coloradans to stay inside, pick up takeout from local restaurants and get fresh air (close to home). If the fear of getting infected isn’t powerful enough, the possibility of having your photo taken and shared publicly is one more reason to stay home — or resist the urge to buy all the toilet paper and cans of soup.

Online shaming is spiriting a “reclamation of public responsibility,” said Lynn Schofield Clark, a professor at the University of Denver and chair of the Department of Media, Film and Journalism Studies.

“I think everyone is worried right now about people being out for themselves,” she said. “We are used to thinking for ourselves, and we are a country that values individual liberties and freedoms.” But now, “we are supposed to be part of a larger public and care for each other.”

And doing anything but staying home right now (unless you’re an essential worker) is likely not contributing to the public good.

On Facebook, a Colorado woman posted spring break photos from a beach vacation taken just as the new coronavirus reached Colorado. “Enjoy your 14 days of quarantine,” responded a friend. And Littleton neighbors who sat outside in their cul de sac last weekend, more than 6 feet apart in their own chairs, wondered if their quarantine party would show up on Nextdoor or Facebook for judgment after an unfriendly passerby stopped to take pictures with his smartphone.

Creede resident Clint Johnson has both dished it and received it. Johnson had shared jokes about the pandemic on social media and thought the stay-at-home order was “overkill,” but then he got COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. He knew he was in for some shaming when he revealed his news on Facebook last Friday.

He put it all out there anyway. “The sad thing is that I didn’t take it seriously at first so I honestly have no idea where I could have contracted it at or who I could have spread it to and for that I am truly sorry,” he wrote. The vast majority of folks replied with encouraging words and prayers for his recovery, but not everyone.

“I am curious how many people you infected because you thought this was funny,” responded one. “Like they said when we were kids, it’s all fun and games until it happens to you.”

Clint Johnson, a Creede resident, was bracing for some social media shaming after revealing via Facebook that he was sick with COVID-19 and had no idea who he infected because he hadn’t taken social distancing guidelines seriously. Almost all of his Facebook friends were nice. (Photo from Johnson’s Facebook page)

Johnson, 46, woke up feeling sick March 16 but went to work that day and the next remodeling a house. By the third day, he was too sick to get up. He was airlifted to a hospital in Pueblo six days ago, and was sleeping with ice packs under his knees, kidneys and neck to try to bring down his fever.

Johnson, speaking via phone from his hospital bed Monday and coughing every minute or so, said he thought the worst of it was over — he had finally gotten a good night’s sleep and his breathing was improving.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” he said, recalling that he had friends over to hang out and throw horseshoes right up until he realized he was sick. “I thought it was a joke. I was making fun, and when it hit me, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I felt pretty stupid.”

Some of the most brutal shaming has been reserved for celebrities — particularly anyone living in a multimillion-dollar mansion who dares to complain about being stuck at home or tells anyone else to stay at home.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow was shamed into deleting a tone-deaf Instagram post touting a designer outfit and her “fresh sneaker guide.” The reaction to singer Jared Leto’s bizarre Twitter post about emerging from 12 days of “silent meditation in the desert” only to learn about the coronavirus was swift and brutal.

“The world awaits your wisdom and instructions for what we should do during this crisis Jared,” was one of many sarcastic replies.

Wow. 12 days ago I began a silent meditation in the desert. We were totally isolated. No phone, no communication etc. We had no idea what was happening outside the facility.

— JARED LETO (@JaredLeto) March 17, 2020

Schofield Clark, the professor, sees that as a positive development in the social media world. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to call out people who have privilege,” she said. “It’s a really hopeful sign to me, … for a society that tends to be very individualistic.”

Some people are lashing out on social media in part because that’s their only outlet during quarantine — it’s a way to do something to help. But something bigger is happening, too, a shift of ideological lines that were drawn in the past. It’s a new age of “protection of self and protection of others,” Schofield Clark said.

In New York, masses of people who gathered to watch the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship, glide into port Monday had their photo shared on Twitter by Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi. “Honestly if you recognize people in these photos feel free to call them out because this is absolutely insane,” she said to her 632,000 folllowers.

Julie Tran, a student at the University of Denver, said that while she understands what’s at stake with the stay-at-home order, she has been surprised at the nasty tone directed toward young people who thought — at least in the beginning — that the virus could not hurt them. College and high school students who posted pictures of themselves out eating ice cream or hanging out at a friend’s house during the pandemic have learned their lesson and seem to have stopped doing those things — or at least stopped sharing them, she said.

“Instagram is mostly people staying inside, going insane,” Tran said.

And thanks to isolation and the need for information, social media use has reached obsession levels for some during the pandemic, said Lan Liang, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Colorado Denver who is studying how social media product design affects mental health.

“It is such an unsettling moment in the world, and some people, like myself, could be very anxious to know everything,” Liang said. “I remember there were a few days when I could not do anything but constantly checking the latest news online across various social media platforms. It was unhealthy.”

But social media also is helping people connect, in a time they most need it, she said.

Without it “you would not get to know how a grandma walks her dog during quarantine in Serbia,” said Liang, who has been studying social media during the pandemic. (The woman lowered the dog by its leash from her balcony.) In China, news of the outbreak first circulated on WeChat, a Chinese social network, among a group of Wuhan doctors who were sounding an alarm, she said.

Policymakers in various countries are paying attention to online responses from the public. In Denver, the mayor reversed course on closing liquor and marijuana stores after both were bombarded in what customers thought were their final hours to shop. Photos of long lines during the Great Denver Prohibition of 2020 were all over the internet.

Across the world, #CoronaVirusKindness has collected thoughts of gratitude for medical workers, and health care workers have shared photos on their Facebook pages with the text “Stay home for us.”

“No matter who we are and where we are, what we see on social media deliver the message that we are on the same boat together,” Liang said. But, “being understanding and sensitive is very important in any context, especially in this pandemic.”

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Twitter Outlines New Platform Rules Which Emphasize Reduced Reach, as Opposed to Suspensions

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Twitter Outlines New Platform Rules Which Emphasize Reduced Reach, as Opposed to Suspensions

After reinstating thousands of previously suspended accounts, as part of new chief Elon Musk’s ‘amnesty’ initiative, Twitter has now outlined how it will be enforcing its rules from now on, which includes less restrictive measures for some violations.

As explained by Twitter:

“We have been proactively reinstating previously suspended accounts […] We did not reinstate accounts that engaged in illegal activity, threats of harm or violence, large-scale spam and platform manipulation, or when there was no recent appeal to have the account reinstated. Going forward, we will take less severe actions, such as limiting the reach of policy-violating Tweets or asking you to remove Tweets before you can continue using your account.”

This is in line with Musk’s previously stated ‘freedom of speech, not freedom of reach’ approach, which will see Twitter leaning more towards leaving content active in the app, but reducing its impact algorithmically, if it breaks any rules.

Which means a lot of tweets that would have previously been deemed violative will now remain in the app, and while Musk notes that no ads will be displayed against such content, that could be difficult to enforce, given the way the tweet timeline functions.

But it does align with Musk’s free speech approach, and reduces the onus on Twitter, to some degree, in moderating speech. It will still need to assess each instance, case-by-case, but users themselves will be less aware of penalties – though Musk has also flagged adding more notifications and explainers to outline any reach penalties as well.

“Account suspension will be reserved for severe or ongoing, repeat violations of our policies. Severe violations include but are not limited to: engaging in illegal content or activity, inciting or threatening violence or harm, privacy violations, platform manipulation or spam, and engaging in targeted harassment of our users.

Which still means that a lot of content that these users had been suspended for previously would still result in suspension now, and it leaves a lot up to Twitter management in allocating severity of impact in certain actions.

How do you definitively measure threats of violence or harm, for example? Former President Donald Trump was sanctioned under this policy, but many, including Musk, were critical of Twitter’s decision to do so, given that Trump is an elected representative.

In other nations, too, Twitter has been pressured to remove tweets under these policies, and it’ll be interesting to see how Twitter 2.0 handles such, given its stated more lax approach to moderation, despite its rules remaining largely the same.

Already, questions have been raised on this front – Twitter recently removed links to a BBC documentary that’s critical of the Indian Government, at the request of India’s PM. Twitter hasn’t offered any official explanation for the action, but with Musk also working with the Indian Government to secure partnerships for his other business, Tesla, questions have been raised as to how he will manage both impacts concurrently.

In essence, Twitter’s approach has changed when it chooses to do so, but the rules, as such, will effectively be governed by Musk himself. And as we’ve already seen, he will make drastic rules changes based on personal agendas and experience.

Twitter says that, starting February 1st, any previously suspended users will be able to appeal their suspension, and be evaluated under its new criteria for reinstatement.

It’s also targeting February for a launch of its new account penalties notifications.



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4 new social media features you need to know about this week

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New social media features to know this week


Social media never stands still. Every week there are new features — and it’s hard for the busy comms pro to stay up-to-date on it all.

We’ve got you covered.

Here’s what you need to know about this week.

LinkedIn

Social media sleuth Matt Navarra reported on Twitter that LinkedIn will soon make the newsletters you subscribe to through the site visible to other users.

This should aid newsletter discovery by adding in an element of social proof: if it’s good enough for this person I like and respect, it’s good enough for me. It also might be anopportunity to get your toe in the water with LinkedIn’s newsletter features.

Instagram

After admitting they went a little crazy on Reels and ignored their bread and butter of photographs, Instagram continues to refine its platform and algorithm. Although there were big changes over the last few weeks, these newer changes are subtler but still significant.

 

 

First, the animated avatars will be more prominent on profiles. Users can now choose to flip between the cartoony, waving avatar and their more traditional profile picture, rather than picking one or the other, TechCrunch reported, seemingly part of a push to incorporate metaverse-esque elements into the app.

Instagram also appears to have added an option to include a lead form on business profiles. We say “appears” because, as Social Media Today reports, the feature is not yet listed as an official feature, though it has rolled out broadly.

The feature will allow businesses to use standard forms or customize their own, including multiple choice questions or short answer.

Twitter

In the chaotic world of Twitter updates, this week is fairly staid — with a useful feature for advertisers.

The platform will roll out the ability to promote tweets among search results. As Twitter’s announcement points out, someone actively searching for a term could signal stronger intent than someone merely passively scrolling a feed.

Which of these new features are you most interested in? That LinkedIn newsletter tool could be great for spreading the word — and for discovering new reads.

Allison Carter is executive editor of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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Twitter Tests Expanded Emoji Reaction Options in DMs

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Twitter Tests Expanded Emoji Reaction Options in DMs

Twitter’s looking to give users a broader set of emoji reactions for their DMs, while also, potentially, enabling personalization of your quick reactions display in the app.

As you can see in these mock-ups, shared by Twitter designer Andrea Conway, Twitter’s testing a new search option within the reaction pop-up in DMs which would enable you to use any other emoji as a reaction to a message.

An extension of this would also be the capacity to update the reactions that are immediately displayed to whatever you choose.

Twitter DM reactions

It’s not a game-changer by any means, but it could provide more ways to interact via DMs, and with more interactions switching to messaging, and more private exchanges, it could be a way for Twitter to better lean into this trend, and facilitate a broader array of response options in-stream.

Twitter’s working on a range of updates as it looks to drive more engagement and usage, including tweet view counts, updated Bookmarks, a new ‘For You’ algorithm, and more. Elon Musk has said that he can envision Twitter reaching a billion users per month by next year, but for that to happen, the platform needs to update its systems to show people more of what they like, and keep them coming back – which is what all of these smaller updates, ideally, build to in a broader approach.

But that’s a pretty steep hill to climb.

Last week, Twitter reported that it’s now up to 253 million daily active users, an increase on the 238 million that it reported in July last year. Daily and monthly active usage is not directly comparable, of course, but when Twitter was reporting monthly actives, its peak was around 330 million, back in 2019.

Twitter MAU chart

As noted in the chart, Twitter switched from reporting monthly active users to daily actives in 2019, but looking at the two measurements, it’s hard to imagine that Twitter’s monthly active usage is any more than 100m over its current DAU stats.

That means that Twitter has likely never reached more than 350 million active users – yet Musk believes that he can best that by close to 200% in a matter of months.

Seems unlikely – even at current growth rates since Musk took over at the app, Twitter would only be looking at around 500 million users, optimistically, by the end of 2024.

If it can maintain that. More recent insight from Twitter has suggested that user activity has declined since those early post-Musk purchase highs – but maybe, through a range of updates and tweaks, there could be a way for Musk and Co. to maximize usage growth, beyond what seems possible, based on the stats.

We’ll find out, and as it pushes for that next level, you can expect to see more updates and tweaks like this, with enhanced engagement in mind.  



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