As Americans, you may be surprised to hear that Japan has laws that cover cyberbullying. Up until recently, offenders could be jailed for up to 30 days or fined 10,000 yen, which is currently equivalent to about $75 US. Due in part to the suicide of a Japanese reality-TV star following months of social media abuse, Japan’s parliament strengthened those penalties to up to one year and 300,000 yen. While there are laws in the US that govern libel and defamation, including the ones that have been highlighted in another, much more high-profile case, the language and penalties are vague enough that cyberbullying is rarely prosecuted, as is demonstrated with the rampant abuse that appears regularly in all social media platforms.
What this means for you
Opponents of this legislation are understandably concerned that this type of law could lead to suppression of free speech and criticism of those in power and cite the vague language of the current penal code that determines what constitutes an insult and where it differs from defamation, another activity that is governed by separate laws in Japan. As it stands the increased penalties only came after both sides agreed that the language of the law should be reviewed in three years time to gauge whether the stiffer punishment had any chilling effect on free speech. Prior to this recent change in Japanese law, several people were convicted of cyberbullying in the matter of the aforementioned suicide, but the penalties were so slight (fines of $66 USD) that the ruling just incited outrage amongst the communities lobbying for more attention on social media abuses.
As serious as the Japanese take the concept of honor and “face,” the same could be said of how passionate Americans are about free speech, and despite pledges from the major social media platforms, reforms, moderation and accountability are still only paid lip service with very little concrete action from any platform. We are currently at a crossroads of ethics, capitalism and global politics – platforms like Facebook are so monolithic and monopolistic across all societies and cultures they defy any and all country’s laws and norms, to the point of being able to set the rules and enforce their own worldview, apparently with no accountability, forcing countries who are trying to protect their citizens to make laws that possibly undermine values they claim to value the most. Various laws have been made here in the states that challenge both sides of this thorny issue, but it only highlights the fact that the internet and social media has given bullies more freedoms than should have been allowed, ever. It also asks a very uncomfortable question: do humans have the inalienable right to be awful to their fellow humans with no accountability? There seems to be a lot of people who think that our First Amendment allows just that.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
As if there weren’t enough points piling up in the negative column for social media, the Federal Trade Commission has recently released a report revealing that scams run through social media platforms are netting big money for fraudsters. According to the FTC, social media con jobs cost Americans three-quarters of a billion dollars in 2021 ($770M) and accounted for over a quarter of the total fraud claims made that year. This is a 17-fold increase since 2017, and double what was reported in 2020. The top 2 money-makers? Investment scams and online romance swindles.
What this means for you.
For a very large percentage of our population, social media has become a staple of their daily lives, even more so during the pandemic and the various stages of lockdown that have washed over the country. It is well documented how platforms like Facebook are designed to create and reinforce echo chambers and information bias, which in effect creates an audience that is predisposed to unreasonably trust any content that appears in their “bubble”. While it may seem blasphemous to think of them as clever or learned, you can bet that scammers are reading these same papers to use this knowledge to their advantage
As a savvy business professional, you probably already know well enough to distrust investment knowledge received from someone in your Facebook feed who isn’t a known and licensed financial advisor (Right? RIGHT?!?), but in the day and age of social distancing and Zoom Cocktail Parties finding romance online doesn’t seem so farfetched, especially since online dating has been around for decades now. Both are huge moneymakers for scammers, and platforms like Facebook and Instagram are ripe hunting grounds with a never-ending supply of targets.
Unfortunately, given how easy it is to create a fake social media account, or to hijack a legitimate one, the truly savvy online traveler will have to wander the social media lands with eyes wide open, wallet in a zipped-up pocket, and a guarded heart. These are not apocryphal stories or urban legends. I have personally counseled at least half a dozen very intelligent and savvy adults through social media scams purely because the platforms are designed to lull people into a false sense of security, primarily so that they never consider leaving. As with anything consumed without moderation, this can lead to harm: financial, emotional and sometimes even physical.
The FTC has assembled guidelines for protecting yourself in social media (at the bottom of the short article). Perhaps some of these look familiar:
- Limit who can see your posts and information on social media. All platforms collect information about you from your activities on social media, but visit your privacy settings to set some restrictions.
- Check if you can opt out of targeted advertising. Some platforms let you do that.
- If you get a message from a friend about an opportunity or an urgent need for money, call them. Their account may have been hacked – especially if they ask you to pay by cryptocurrency, gift card, or wire transfer. That’s how scammers ask you to pay.
- If someone appears on your social media and rushes you to start a friendship or romance, slow down. Read about romance scams. And never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Before you buy, check out the company. Search online for its name plus “scam” or “complaint.”
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
For finding things, it’s hard to beat Google, whether it be concept, place or thing. If you are looking for a local business using Google Maps, that information is provided by another Google platform called “Places”, which consists of listings provided by business owners and “crowdsourcing”, which can either be a boon or bane to your business, especially if you were unaware that your business even has a Places listing. A restaurant owner in Virginia found out the hard way how impactful the internet can be, despite the low tech way he ran his business. The Serbian Crown only discovered that it had a Google Places listing after it was on a rapid decline in weekend receipts that eventually led to its closure. After months of struggling to find out why, the owner received a call from a regular who asked why they were closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. They weren’t, but Google’s search results said they were. The owner hired a consultant to take control of the places listing and correct the information, but the damage was already done.
What this means for you:
It’s unclear whether the misinformation found in the above Google Places listing was a mistake entered by an anonymous visitor just trying to be helpful, or deliberate sabotage by a competitor. Though the Serbian Crown’s owner alleges the latter and has sued Google for creating a platform that enables this sort of sabotage, Google has dismissed the claim as meritless. Anyone who has done any work managing a brand online, especially through Yelp, can understand how the Serbian Crown’s downfall could be wrought. The restaurant spent months walking around unaware with the equivalent of a “Kick me” sign stuck to its back. As more and more people get their information from the Internet, how your business appears online matters immensely, regardless of what service you perform, and it’s essentially impossible for any organization with a public-facing element to remain invisible or “off the grid.” If you don’t actively maintain an online presence, it’s still important to regularly search for your organization online to see what the internet has to say about it.
Even the most diehard Facebook afficianado will admit that some days their news feed seems to be a neverending stream of banal posts from friends, making it hard to catch the posts that really matter. “Banal” not because their friends are boring, but many social media apps start out by default posting everything a user does with that app. Multiply that by 5 or 6 apps times all the friends you follow on Facebook, and you have a news stream that is full of noise and very little signal. Facebook, realizing that it already has a fight on its hands to retain its billions of customers, has heard the complaints and is adjusting its news feed platform to de-prioritize auto-posts from third-party apps, which should give posts actually written by the user better visibility. They also start requiring third-party apps that auto-post on a users behalf to ask users if they actually want the app to auto-post, instead of just assuming that they do.
What this means for you:
The explosive growth of Facebook was largely attributed to its astonishing abillity to allow friends to socialize in a way that was previously only possible by being in direct contact with them, or (heaven forbid!) seeing them face to face. However, as social media grew into maturity and other platforms emerged, splintered and gathered their own loyal fans, the amount of social activity has increased exponentially, to point where its become nearly impossible to sort out the information that matters. And what matters in the social context is so highly personalized, there is no simple, algorithmic way to do so. Thus, we see the pendulum begin its return swing, starting with Facebook (the progenitor of “What I had for lunch” posts) turning down the activity spam so that their users can once again sort the wheat from the chaff. It may even get me reading my Facebook news stream again!
It’s commonly said that you either “get” Twitter or you don’t, and there is a small percentage of folks (your’s truly included) that understand Twitter but prefer other social media platforms. Regardless of where you stand on Twitter, there are millions using it to send billions of tweets, and lest you think all those pithy (and not so pithy) thoughts are gathering virtual dust on some Library of Congress archive server, researchers at University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab have created a website that uses English-language tweets to guage the overall happiness level of the (English-speaking) world’s population.
Based upon the usage of certain words that are scored on a scale of 1 (sad) to 9 (happy), The Hedonometer crunches the numbers into a visual representation of the “world’s” happiness on any given day, going as far back as October 2008. Based upon the statistics so far, Christmas Day appears to be the happiest day of any year, and you can spot obvious low points as well, including the recent bombings of the Boston Marathon. The creators of the site plan to include other sources moving forward, including text from the New York Times, Google Trends, the BBC and Bit.ly.
What this means for you:
On a purely practical level, there is probably not much for the average human on Hedonometer.org other than intellectual stimulation. Sadly, UV’s researchers haven’t revealed the secret of happiness on a personal or global level, but their research and results do illustrate the point that many, including myself, like to make about living in the digital age: everything we do on the internet is being recorded, and in most cases, it’s being analyzed. Sometimes that analysis is academic (ie. Hedonometer.org) but as for-profit companies (think: Facebook) start to crunch the massive amounts of data they have on their servers, our collective behaviors, moods and (most importantly) needs will merely become an exercise in big-data analysis. While human welfare and profit aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is not known for being universally conducive to the former, especially when the leaders (or stakeholders) of those companies view profit and happiness as a zero-sum game.
In case you haven’t been keeping up on your popular internet news, Applebees has stumbled into the hornet’s nest known as the “Internet backlash” following the termination of food server Chelsea Welch. Ms. Welch posted a receipt she received from a customer who wrote a decidedly controversial message on the bill, refusing to pay the restaurant-suggested tip that Applebees (not the food server!) adds for serving large parties. Being of the digital age, Ms. Welch did what many do (right or wrong) when something offends them: they share it on the internet. And as things sometimes do on the internet, outrage happens.
Here’s where the fun begins. Instead of circling the lawyers around the Applebee’s camp and running some professional damage control, someone with control over Applebee’s Facebook page took it upon themselves to argue with the entire internet. They did it poorly and clearly without “adult supervision.”
Rule #1 of the internet: “Don’t get into an argument on the internet.”
Rule #2 of the internet: “Don’t post in anger.”
What this means for you:
If you are in business, and your business has an online component: Facebook page, Twitter account, G+ presence, etc., how you use that account is possibly one of the most powerful brand management tools in your arsenal. As a famous superhero is known to say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Part of that responsibility is understanding exactly what impact your status update, tweet, post, etc. can have. In the case of Ms. Welch, she didn’t have a large audience to start with. I’m sure she shared the photo with only a handful of friends…who then went on to share with their friends…and so on, and so on. You get the picture. Also keep in mind that if you have employees, make sure they understand the responsibility they have in representing your company’s brand on the internet, officially, or informally. You don’t need to police their Twitter postings and friend them on Facebook, but it doesn’t hurt to gently remind them that if they are representing themselves as employees of your firm, that representation doesn’t end the minute they clock out at work, especially if they clearly (and proudly) display you as their employer on their social media profiles.
Bernard Meisler of ReadWriteWeb has put together an interesting article on a curious phenomena occurring on the world’s largest social network, Facebook: people “liking” things that they definitely don’t like, and even scarier, dead people “liking” things, apparently from beyond the grave. In short, Mr. Meisler after noticing some out-of-character “liking” behavior among his friends, did an informal poll and discovered that many of them found “likes” in their history that they don’t remember making, and some of them so at odds with their own personal beliefs as to be outright offensive, ie. a dedicated vegetarian “liking” the McDonald’s Facebook page.
Facebook, of course, denies that this is possible (except that it seems it is possible), and in the case of folks who are still alive (and presumably in control of their own Facebook accounts) attributes the anomalous “likes” to either pilot-error or a forgotten action. In the case of those who have passed on, apparently if the deceased’s page is not “memorialized”, Facebook can still dredge up past history and “refresh” their stream to simulate (and presumably stimulate) activity. I personally witnessed this on the account of a friend who recently passed the previous year, so it definitely does occur.
What this means for you:
Check your Facebook history, specifically your “Likes” history. This can be done by clicking your name in the upper right of the Facebook interface, and click the “Activity Log” button on your page. See any pages you don’t remember liking? If you do, let us know!