Showing all posts tagged: social media

What happens to American TikTok influencers if the app is banned?

26 April 2024

A few days ago the United States Congress passed a law stipulating that video-sharing social network TikTok either be sold by Chinese owned company ByteDance, or face being banned in America. It seems like drastic move, but American lawmakers have their reasons.

The proposal has been on the table for some time, and when I heard about it early last year, I wondered what might happen to the American TikTok influencers, many of whom make a living through their activities on the app. I guess we’re going to find out.

Apparently nearly half of the US population are TikTok members, and a reasonable number of them would be deriving some sort of income from it. But I doubt US TikTok influencers could launch a campaign to have the law overturned, by encouraging voter turnout for a particular political party.

The law had strong bi-partisan support from both the Democrat and Republican parties, so the outcome of upcoming elections in the US would probably make no difference. From the point of view (I should say POV) of American TikTok members who livelihoods depend on the app, I hope a buyer favourable to the US government comes along, if that means TikTok continues operating in America.


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Tracking versus privacy, are Pay or Ok consent models ok?

23 April 2024

So called “pay or ok” consent models allow social media users to access services such as Facebook or Instagram, without adverts, if they’re prepared to pay a subscription. Otherwise they’ll see ads, possibly targeted ads, at some point, and obviously be OK with that. At face value, this seems reasonable. There’s no such as a free lunch. If people want to continue using big social networks, they either need to pay to do so, or accept the presence of ads.

But regulators at the European Union’s (EU) European Data Protection Board (EDPB) aren’t happy with the “pay or ok” arrangement. In particular, the idea of targeted advertising. Long story short, to place targeted ads in a social media user’s content feed, it’s necessary to track that user. This is something the EDPB objects to.

Instead, they’d prefer a third option. Freely available access to social media services, but with non-targeted advertising. This might be akin to radio and television advertising, where a more blanket approach is taken to ad placement. As far as the social networks go, this sort of strategy could prove to be hit and miss though. One or two revenue generating ads may be relevant to a user, but not enough to be viable.

I didn’t want to write in-depth today on the topic of online tracking, whether consensual or not, but a point John Gruber, writing at Daring Fireball, made last week caught my eye. According to Gruber, the majority of EU residents, when it comes to the likes of Facebook and Instagram at least, prefer free access to these social networks, and are prepared to see targeted ads in return.

Gruber paraphrases late Apple founder Steve Jobs in making the point that people are smart, and perfectly capable of making informed choices when it comes to — in this instance — accepting targeted ads on their social media services. Gruber suggests regulatory bodies such as the EDPB believe many people are not so switched on though:

But Jobs was right too: people are smart, and they can — and should be allowed to — make their own decisions. And many people are more comfortable with sharing data than others. The privacy zealots leading this crusade in the EU do not think people are smart, and do not think they should be trusted to make these decisions for themselves.

That seems reasonable. Or is it? Jack Baty suggests the problem isn’t to do with how smart people are, but rather their general lack of concern. Particularly when it comes to comes to opting into targeted ads, in exchange for a payment-free social media experience.

I wouldn’t say I’m a zealot, but I think John mis-characterizes people here. It’s not that people aren’t smart, it’s that they don’t care. If we can’t get them to care about doing things that might be harmful to themselves or others, maybe the government should step in and care for them.

Baty’s point raises the question: how much thought are people really giving to some of the decisions they make? Do we indeed need the support of lawmakers because we may not be fully aware of what we’re agreeing to sometimes? It’s a pertinent point. For my part, I know I have, on occasion, clicked the “agree” button when presented with a text-wall of small print, so I can gain access to an app or service quickly.

Updates to the operating system of my smartphone are one example of what I mean. I try to skim read what I’m being asked to agree to, often numerous pages of legalese, but I can imagine many time-poor people would baulk at the prospect. Particularly those who need to use their phone urgently. And in doing so, not fully reading what they’re agreeing to, what tribulations might they be setting themselves up for later on?

People probably aren’t asked to read voluminous terms and conditions when agreeing to targeted ads appearing in their content streams, but are they aware of just what they’re signing away? The exact degree of privacy they might be forfeiting? Targeted ads can only be generated by tracking, but just how deep does this tracking go?


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Meta AI, coming to your Instagram or Facebook page, like it or not

20 April 2024

Anyone checking into their Instagram or Facebook pages in the last few days, will have no doubt noticed the presence of Meta’s AI “assistant”, named, um, Meta AI.

Britney Nguyen, writing for Quartz:

The tech giant said on Thursday that it is bringing Meta AI to all of its platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, calling it “the most intelligent AI assistant you can use for free.” The AI assistant can be used in platform feeds, chats, and search. Meta also said the AI assistant is faster at generating high quality images, and can “change with every few letters typed,” so users can see it generating their image.


On the Instagram iPhone app (mine at least), the search bar-like assistant hovers at the top of the search page, partly blocking content it sits above. Annoying. No, hold that, not annoying. Since the “default” content displayed on the search page is Meta “suggested” (for want of a better word) content, based on what they think you want to see — which just about couldn’t be any further from the mark — the AI bar actually helps obscure some of this rubbish.

Accordingly, I’d be in favour of a full screen size AI assistant, blocking all the useless meme-like junk appearing there. That would be “the most intelligent AI assistant you can use for free.”


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Personal branding overkill is killing solo content creators

2 April 2024

A band performs live as an audience member photographs them. Photo by Pexels.

Image courtesy of Pexels.

Rebecca Jennings, writing for Vox, on the tyranny of the personal brand, and the stifling effect they are having on content creators:

The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from 9-to-5 middle managers to astronauts to housecleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s “building a platform” so that execs can use your existing audience to justify the costs of signing a new artist.

Back in the day, and I’m talking fifteen plus years ago, if you had any sort of online presence you effectively had a personal brand. It was a term that was frequently bandied about, often quite casually, but to me seemed like a set of (self-determined) guidelines to adhere to.

Boiled down, a personal brand helped maintain a consistency across your online activities. It was quite simple, mostly.

For someone like me, as a blogger/self-publisher, it meant standardising the avatar/log on my website, Twitter page, and things like (the long gone) MyBlogLog, and I was set. Back to blogging I went. Although some people took their personal brand (or, more specifically, the idea of a personal brand) more seriously than others, maintaining one was very much a part time effort. That’s because if you were a content creator (however you defined that: blogger, photographer, musician, artist, designer, author, whatever), being creative was what you did first and foremost. Times have changed.

Yet this is not the place I thought we would, one day, end up in. I do not rate myself as an artist, but I vividly recall the excitement the self-publishing potential of the internet evoked, when I launched the first iteration of disassociated in 1997. Back in the day, the internet presented itself as a space where creatives could carve out a niche of their own, free of intermediaries such as newspaper and book publishers, and record companies.

If they had something they wanted to share with the world, there was no longer anything stopping them. All they had to do was find an audience. And as a bonus, there a possibility they may even be able to make a little money from their craft in, what were then, newly minted roles as content creators. They could deal directly with anyone who was interested in their wares. Outside the costs of hosting a website, and owning a domain name, no one in the middle would be taking a cut.

A whole new age of opportunity seemed to be dawning.

And for a while, some creatives, musicians, writers, and other content creators, did well in this new self-publishing wonderland. Back then, these people centred their enterprise, their brand, their personal brand, on a website, and did so for some time. Even during the early years of the first decade of the twenty-first century, social media channels were far and few between.

Friendster and MySpace were among them, but they were largely for personal use. Facebook, Flickr, Reddit, and Twitter, began to appear, and at first were used as side-line web presences. Creatives were grateful for the extra exposure they offered, but generally didn’t stray far from their websites. But as the likes of Twitter evolved, some of the first self-made influencers began to emerge. By self-made, I mean people who were not celebrities, or music or movie stars, but had garnered large followings on the platform, in their own right.

They may not have had millions of followers, initially, but with several tens of thousands, were the envy of many. And so the shift began. Creatives wanting a spot in the limelight, began devoting more time and energy to social media. YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok added to the frenzy when they arrived. Social media channels had the audiences already. Massive audiences. It was only a matter of finding a slice of the collective gaze.

Content creators could throw out the SEO handbook; they no longer needed to drag visitors, kicking and screaming, onto their websites. Before long, the big social media channels were just about the only game in town, and if you weren’t on-board, you were out in the cold. Long gone was the content creator’s individually owned and branded website.

That in turn, heralded another change. Instead of being a part time web designer, content creators were taking on the role of marketers, and full time administrators of their personal brand. Fine of course if you have the luxury of a social media manager who can take care of your self-promotion, leaving you to focus on whatever it is you do. But solo content creators usually do not have that luxury. So when creatives are spending more time maintaining their personal brand, and less on creative or artistic output, something’s clearly not right.

How is anyone meant to bring forth quality work, when they’re thinking only of self-promotion? No doubt some are managing, but many would be struggling. But personal branding overkill is only part of the problem. The returns for content creators aren’t what they used to be.

Publishing advances for authors have decreased, as have royalty payments for musicians. This is partly a supply matter. With so many artists and content creators vying for audience attention, some are going to be overlooked. Musicians also have to contend with the algorithms on the music streaming services. If their work isn’t put on high-rotation, few ears are going to hear it. And recent changes to the way Spotify makes royalty payments is only going to make matters worse. To be eligible to receive a royalty, a track must be listened to at least one thousand times a year.

What an appalling, and sad, state of affairs, one far, far, removed from the almost utopic cyberspace realm the self-publishers of the late 1990’s envisaged. Certainly the problems are easy to identify, but the solutions are going to be little more elusive. In the meantime, perhaps some consolation can be taken form the artists themselves. I like to think they’ll come through this. They’re survivors; they’re used to doing it tough. Not that anyone should be using that to their advantage.


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All day I dream about the Roman Empire, like many others

18 September 2023

All roads, even Roman roads, lead to TikTok. Take any topic, no matter how obscure, how antiquated, and the subject will, it seems, surface, eventually, on the FYP tab of the ubiquitous video sharing app.

Last week it was the turn of the Roman Empire to trend. The Roman Empire. Antiquated: for sure. Obscure: certainly not. But the talk of TikTok it was. This after women were prompted to ask the men they knew how often they thought about the Roman Empire.

Some of the responses indicated this happened often. Several times a day, in some cases, apparently. Not bad for an institution that hasn’t existed in any real form for centuries. I myself still think about the old empire from time to time. I spent time in Europe once, and often encountered its remnants, even though I did not (somehow) visit Italy.

As a boy I was fascinated, obsessed more likely, by Rome. History teachers at school taught us about the Empire’s contribution to the world we lived in today, a contribution that was quite significant. In a sense we live, to a degree, in a scion of Rome. Of course we therefore think about Rome often: it’s very much a part of the fabric of our lives, a point Tyler Cowan underlines at Marginal Revolution:

I travel in the former Roman empire fairly often, usually at least once a year. I see pseudo-Roman architecture almost every time I go to Washington, D.C., which is maybe once every two weeks. There is a copy of the new Ovid translation sitting in the kitchen, and it has been there for a few months because I do not currently have time to read it. I see periodic Twitter updates about a Nat Friedman-Daniel Gross AI project to read ancient Roman scrolls. Christian references to ancient Rome cross my path all the time. Does it count to see Roman numerals? To write the words “per se”? To notice it is the month of August?

But I was thinking about the old Empire just the other week. In particular, the story of a short story, titled Rome, Sweet Rome, written by American writer James Erwin. In 2011, Erwin briefly serialised a story about a unit of some two thousand United States Marines who find themselves transported two thousand years back in time.

The Marines turn up in Italy with all of their munitions and equipment. Rome, Sweet Rome speculates on the outcome of a battle between the Marines, and the legions of the Roman Empire. The result seems like a foregone conclusion until it is realised the Marines have no way of replenishing their arms. Once they fire their last bullet, they’re fighting the Romans with swords and spears.

It’s no surprise — given how much Rome is still on our minds — that Rome, Sweet Rome garnered quite a bit of attention. At one point Rome, Sweet Rome was even optioned for film, with US production company Warner Bros acquiring the movie rights. Unfortunately for fans of the story, there has been little progress with a screen adaptation, following a re-write of the screenplay in 2013.

But who knows. Perhaps TikTok’s current interest in the Roman Empire might get the ball rolling again. TikTok has a certain power to open doors, if it can excite the interest of enough people.


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Matildas social media followings skyrocket during World Cup

24 August 2023

Many members of the Australian women’s football team saw their social media followings jump exponentially as a result of the recent 2023 Women’s World Cup, according to data compiled by Australian football news and information portal Keepup.

Mary Fowler’s Instagram (IG) follower count soared by nearly 470% to — as of time of writing — about 281,000. Caitlin Foorde meanwhile saw her IG followers increase by 153% to about 208,000, while team captain Sam Kerr’s count doubled to over one and half million people.


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Have film influencers killed off insightful film critique?

3 August 2023

London based film writer Manuela Lazić, writing for The Guardian:

If the internet has paved the way for the devaluation of cinema via streaming platforms, it has also done the same for film criticism. The democratising effect is undeniable, but so is the cheapening one, literally and figuratively. With so many more people writing about cinema online, fees for reviews have fallen to shockingly low levels and the expertise supposedly required of film critics has been forgotten – knowledge of the film history and good writing skills are less and less valued.

Once, many years ago, during a regrettable stint working in the corporate sector, I was called into division wide meeting by my boss. The CEO, whom my boss reported to directly, wanted to conduct a staff survey. The CEO was — so he said — keen to learn what people thought about working at the company. My boss was clearly terrified at what might be said, and sought to steer our thinking.

“I think it’s great of the CEO to offer us this opportunity to speak our minds, and accordingly, I think we should be positive,” he said, trying, but failing, to sound as matter-of-fact as possible. Whether he missed my colleagues and I side-eyeing each other, or only pretended to, I don’t know. My frazzled boss though was able to rest easy. A few days later it was announced the survey was being delayed, and that was the last anyone heard of it.

But the takeaway was clear. When asked to offer honest feedback, always be complimentary.

Ten years ago, I was being invited to film preview screenings left, right, and centre. I was, according to a marketer at one of the promotions agencies I was “partnering” with, an influencer. But I wasn’t an influencer, and I certainly wasn’t a film critic, even though I wrote a bit about some of the films I saw. What I did have though was a website, the content of which, at the time, ranked quickly and well, on certain search engines.

There it was: I was an asset. If I were to write about a film, chances were the review would be near the top of the search results. Now if only I could write positively about that film. Perhaps the excitement, the extravaganza, of being at the local premiere, where food was abundant, the alcohol flowed, and the stars were in attendance, would entice me to say something nice. Well, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the hoopla of it all.

Generally though, I heard little back from the agencies, regardless of what I wrote. It was apparent, from my web stats reports, that some of them looked, but that was all. A bad write up didn’t see me struck off the invite list. But times have changed it seems. All a would-be influencer cum film critic can expect today when being asked to review a film, is a free ticket to the show. Gone is the red carpet, the bubbly, and the assorted “free” gifts. Gone also are tickets to the next event, if a favourable social media post is not forthcoming.

An incentive, if ever there were one, to be complimentary, and positive.

And that’s it. That’s the way film reviews roll in the third decade of the twenty-first century, particularly where the big budget blockbusters are concerned. Experienced film critics seem to no longer be part of the process, or if they are, their thoughts are relegated to the fringes where few paying cinema-goers venture. Social media, and influencers, and a world where negative reviews never see the light of day: what a boon that’s been for the blockbuster film industry.


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Twitter/X announces full time dark mode, then goes dark on idea

1 August 2023

A few days after Twitter rebranded as X, company owner Elon Musk announced the X interface would be permanently switched into dark mode. In the usual course of events, dark mode allows users of a website or app to temporarily swap light coloured backgrounds for darker ones.

It’s a feature intended to make looking at screens a little easier on the eyes in low light situations. Such as a dark bedroom, or heaven forbid, while at the movies.

In a tweet (if that’s what they’re still called) posted on Thursday 27 July 2023, Musk said dark mode is “better in every way”. Well, dark mode is better in some circumstances, but not all, and not all of the time either. For some people, far from being helpful, dark mode can present all sorts of difficulties.

I doubt Musk was interested in the comfort of X users though. The call to permanently plunge X into dark mode was probably more to do with the dark mode interface matching the black and white colours of the new X logo.

But the next, day news came that X was backtracking on the dark mode proposal. To a degree. In a follow-up tweet, Musk said light mode will still be available, “but the default will be dark”.

I flicked the email app on my laptop into permanent “dark mode” a year or two ago, and while I find it easier to view in the evenings, it just doesn’t feel right during daylight hours. Of course I could switch back to normal mode at any time, and no doubt there’s an option to automatically toggle light and dark modes anyway, if only I went looking.

If Musk’s intention, with his talk of a permanent dark mode, was to turn the conversation towards X, and away from, say, Threads, it looks like he succeeded, if only for a while. We can only wait to see what the next thing will be.


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Boost Threads engagement by making the platform more useful

31 July 2023

Photo of intertwined blue rope and threads, by Igor Ovsyannykov

Image courtesy of Igor Ovsyannykov.

The number of people using Threads, Meta’s micro-blogging app, together with the amount of time they are spending there, has continued to decline, according to Israeli web analytics company, Similarweb. It’s certainly not what a lot of people would have expected, given Threads’ awe inspiring debut in early July. Meta however maintain they are not surprised by the latest numbers, and perhaps for good reason.

While Threads signed on a record one-hundred million members in a matter of days, that could be largely attributed to the ease of joining. If you had an Instagram (IG) account, as do some two billion people, joining Threads was almost as simple as pressing a button. A person’s IG profile information was copied straight over to their Threads page, as were their followers, who had the option to follow back if and when they joined.

Aside from early adopters scrambling to score a low Threads badge number, numerous people already established on IG were keen to carry over their IG username and brand to Threads, lest someone else get in first. Threads also appealed to those disillusioned with the shenanigans of the micro-blogging platform formerly known as Twitter, who further were enticed by Threads’ ease of use, compared to alternatives such as Mastodon.

But once set up and ready to go on Threads, many Threaders were left wondering: what next? On looking more closely at Threads, members found a platform lacking not only in user options, but also a significant proportion of their friends and followers from other social networks. In addition, some users, particularly those with smaller followings, had expressed frustration at the low levels of engagement they were experiencing on Threads.

Many of these new users also had the existing social networks they were part of to consider.

Yet none of these problems are, I think, insurmountable. So long as Meta doesn’t overly Facebook-ernise Threads in the way they have IG, that is. Do we want Facebook and IG like “suggestions”, and other content we didn’t expressly opt-in for, clogging up our timelines and feeds? Not me. I’m not saying Meta shouldn’t be able to generate revenue from Threads through advertising in some form, but surely they can do so in a measured way.

What Meta needs to do is make Threads more useful. They could start by making topics of interest searchable. This was one of the highlights of Twitter/X. Finding out what’s happening elsewhere in my hometown, or why there’s a delay on the train line, was as simple as entering a phrase into the search box. Another urgently needed feature is making hashtags live. Being able to see what others are saying about the same topic was another feature that gave Twitter great value.

A list of trending topics would also be useful. As would desktop/laptop computer access to Threads. The current app-only access means I need to email posts I’ve written for other platforms to my smartphone, just to make the cross-post to Threads. And on the subject of cross-posting, how about the option to post photos and videos from IG — as we can to other Meta properties, such as Facebook — to Threads at the same time.

When it comes to boosting engagement on Threads, perhaps selected posts from users with public profiles, who are not influencers, nor have large following counts, could have more prominence in the “For you” column. At present the “For you” column seems to be the domain of the Threads rock stars, whom maybe I could refer to as the threaderati, were I to riff on that celebrated neologism from the blogosphere, bloggerati.

Threaders with modest profiles though might feel less disinclined to interact with someone closer to their level, rather than respond to an influencer who may not even see their comment. If nothing else, it might garner more interaction at grass roots level. But let’s see what eventuates. Meta have said new features are forthcoming. Now it’s a matter of waiting for them, and seeing what impact they have on the platform.


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The Twitter rebrand, an X shaped railroad switch to the wrong track

28 July 2023

Mary Winter, semiotics specialist at Australian branding agency Principals, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald, about the symbolism behind X, the new logo of Twitter, now known as X. The move possibly says a lot about what is going through the mind of Elon Musk, owner of Twitter/X.

Semiotics analysis tells us X is highly symbolic, triggering intense feelings and emotions. There are clear patterns around X in our culture signalling physical or moral danger. Case in point, X often turns up in pornography in the form of X-rated content. As something that signals moral boundaries, our minds are alert to it.

Semiotics, in case the term is new to you, is the study of the use of symbolic communication.


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