Did You Lose Twitter Followers Recently?

This month Twitter started removing tens of millions of suspicious accounts, especially those that are identified as bots and fake accounts.

That means that users may be finding that they have lost followers.  Of course, if you were a user who inflated your followers by buying followers, I'm glad your numbers dropped. And if I lost a few who were fake, all the better.

Twitter declined to provide an exact number of affected users, but said it would drop tens of millions of questionable accounts and that would reduce the total combined follower count on Twitter by about 6 percent.

Full disclosure - I own Twitter stock and though I don't want to see the stock drop, I do want reform. Twitter has far fewer users than Facebook or Google, but has also come in for criticism for allowing abuse and hate speech and for playing a role in the Russian influence during the 2016 election.

Twitter did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year, and Twitter Inc.'s stock slipped 10% last week after the news about the suspended accounts came out. Those accounts impact the company's tally of monthly active users, a key growth metric that is closely monitored by Wall Street investors. The MAU (monthly active users) jumped to 336 million in April, up from 330 million in the previous quarter.

I have always told my social media clients that followers is not the best metric to measure the success of your social media strategy. Everyone wants followers, but I get new followers every day on multiple networks that I can see are only following me in the hopes that I will follow them back. 

As others have observed -

Removing bots enables Twitter to take control of this situation, and improve the credibility of their metrics – as social media marketing becomes a more significant element in modern business, people are also becoming more informed about what those numbers actually mean, and how to identify real influence, as opposed to those who’ve bought their way to prominence.

If people repeatedly see influencer lists filled with people who they know have cheated the system, that reduces their trust in such data, while it would also skew Twitter’s algorithm which favors content from more prominent users, and with higher engagement stats (both of which can be gamed).

Should Social Media Be in the Classroom?

appsThere's no question that social media is increasingly ubiquitous across age groups and industries. The drivers have been the rapidly increasing ubiquity of smartphones and expanding WiFi networks that gave rise to the many social media networks. many of those platforms have fallen away and a handful of them, like Instagram and Facebook, dominate.

And then there is the education world...

A 2015 Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of teens use more than one social networking site, and 24 percent are online “almost constantly.” Schools have reacted as they often do with new technology. They try to stop it from entering the classroom. Phone-off policies have been used for several decades. Students sneaking a look at their Instagram account in class are treated in the same way we would have treated a student sneaking a look at a comic book in the 1950s.

Of course, there were teachers who tried to incorporate phones and even social media into their lessons. Having students do searches, following a class hashtag, polling apps or using the photo and video capabilities to record experiments or document learning are just a few ways teachers have made the enemy mobile device more friendly.

But those teachers and classrooms are still the exception. I regularly see articles in edtech journals about a teacher using social media and it is treated as innovation when it is not. I understand the headlines though, because it is still at the fringes of classroom pedagogy.

The concerns in K-12 are understandable and that is a different world when it comes to privacy, cyberbullying and other issues. But social media in higher education classrooms is just as limited.

So, am I saying we all need to include more social media in our courses? Yes, but with the caveat that it should be limited - as with other mediums such as film/video - to true educational applications. Using social media to be trendy is stupid.

Social media can be a way to teach students to think critically and creatively about the world and their place in it. I feel that we do have an obligation to teach students about the intelligent use of their devices and apps. Successful networking, whether it be via devices or face-to-face, is always listed as a skill employers want. As mobile social media continues to dominate our culture, its intelligent use for marketing or more personal communication becomes a must-have skill.

A page at accreditedschoolsonline.org lists a number of resources and lesson plans that teachers can use. It is important to use lessons that would naturally occur in your curriculum, rather than injecting social media lesson into what is probably an already crowded curriculum. How can social media be the tool or vector to teach what you want to teach?

The way that rather than just have students read a famous speech or Shakespeare scene or poem, you can have them experience it as a video/audio, we can find new ways to experience content via social media.

Two examples from that resource page:

Flickr Gallery is a lesson using curated (in itself, an important concept) Flickr galleries to teach students about selecting useful images, critical thinking about image presentation, and ideas of intellectual property and copyright.

I know that some of my colleagues would laugh at the idea of using Twitter for Research (some still don't understand why students need to be taught to properly use Wikipedia) but it is certainly used in that way by journalists and other professional writers. 

Educators need to be more aware of the social learning aspects of websites that they might not think of as "social media." For example, Goodreads is a free site that allows people to search its literary database, annotations and reviews and curate reading lists, connect with other readers and even take quizzes about books or do a Q&A with an author. This is not limited to fiction. Non-fiction groups are there too. My own Goodreads list has connected me to readers of my reviews and led to conversations about authors and books.

And other sites are probably not familiar to many teachers. Yes, you will need to think outside the platform's probable original uses and applications and hack them for your educational needs. Kahoot! is a game-based trivia and quiz platform that obviously provides a way for teachers - and even better, students - to create and share their own quizzes within the classroom. Wakelet is a free social media curating (I do like that skill) platform that allows you to collect information from around the web, including tweets, videos and photos. These collections can be private or shared, and users can add text of their own to their stories.

Should Social Media Be in the Classroom? Yes. How might you use sites like Reddit, Snapchat, SoundCloud or Twitch in your courses? An excellent topic for professional development.

Was My Facebook Data Compromised?

Roughly 87 million people had their Facebook data stolen by the political research firm Cambridge Analytica. 

On April 10 and 11 Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress. The reviews were mixed. Some said he was robotic and evasive. I thought he did a good job in the face of some ignorant questions by people who clearly don't understand Facebook, social media or modern technology - and even mispronounced Zuckerberg's name several different ways.

The day before the hearings Facebook finally notified the people who had their information grabbed by Cambridge Analytica. It is supposed to be about 70 million Americans and other users in the UK, Indonesia, and the Philippines. 

I saw the notification at the top of my Facebook newsfeed when I logged in. There was also a button for changing my privacy settings. Probably everyone, even if your information wasn’t captured and used by Cambridge Analytica, you should check and tighten up those settings.

How can you tell if your data was shared with Cambridge Analytica? Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/help/1873665312923476 

What did Facebook tell me? 

"Based on our investigation, you don't appear to have logged into "This Is Your Digital Life" with Facebook before we removed it from our platform in 2015. However, a friend of yours did log in. As a result, the following information was likely shared with "This Is Your Digital Life": Your public profile, Page likes, birthday and current city. A small number of people who logged into "This Is Your Digital Life" also shared their own News Feed, timeline, posts and messages which may have included posts and messages from you. They may also have shared your hometown."

One of the questions that Zuckerberg was asked was about the fact that Cambridge Analytica wasn’t the only company that was misusing Facebook data. The company suspended at least two more research companies before the hearings: CubeYou was also misusing data from personality quizzes, along with AggregateIQ. 

After a rash of people saying they were quitting Facebook and the stock taking a hit, during the hearings the stock rebounded and I am seeing less talk about quitting. Though there are plenty of social networks, none has all the features of Facebook and has been able to hold a large user base. One Senator asked if Facebook is a monopoly. Zuckerberg said No, but was unable to really give an example of a major competitor. Yes, they overlap with networks like Twitter and their own Instagram, but no one really does it all.

Zuckerberg made the point repeatedly that Facebook has already made many positive changes since the Cambridge Analytica breach an is still doing them now ahead of any possible regulation by Congress. Are all the issues corrected? No. Are things better with Facebook and privacy? Yes. Will it or some competitor ever be the perfect social network? No way.

Analyzing Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and You

The Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook hit this month because of its involvement in the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The company used an app developed legitimately by a Cambridge University researcher, Dr. Aleksandr Kogan, as a personality survey called "This is Your Digital Life."

I recall learning about that app about 3 years ago in a presentation at an EdTech conference. By using it as a quiz on Facebook, about 270,000 users gave permission (because most people are unaware of the access they allow) to their data which was collected but then used to additionally collect some public data from their friends.

I suspect a majority of social media users are unaware of how their data is used, and what permissions they have granted (perhaps by default in some instances).

Have you ever used your Facebook login as a way to sign in to another website or app? It asks you if you want to login using your Facebook ID and that seems to save a step or two and is great if you forgot your actual login to that other site. 

When those Facebook users took the "This is your digital life" quiz using their Facebook login, they allowed that app's developer to tap into all of the information in their Facebook profile (that includes your name, where you live, email address and friends list).  [Note: Currently, apps are no longer permitted to collect data from your Facebook friends.]

I don't give Dr. Kogan, Cambridge Analytica or Facebook a pass on this activity even if users did opt in. Kogan shared it with Cambridge Analytica which Facebook says that was against its policy. Facebook says it asked Cambridge Analytica to delete all of the data back in 2015. Facebook also claims that it only recently found out that wasn't done.

A lot of people seem to have given up on privacy, accepting it as something we just can't control any more. But there is a lot you can and should do.

settings

For example, a very simple change to make in your Facebook privacy settings is to "Limit The Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline." That means that posts on your timeline that you've shared with Friends of friends, and Public posts, will now be shared only with Friends. Anyone tagged in these posts, and their friends, may also still see these posts, but the public (which includes apps) will not be able to access them legitimately.

Facebook's API, called Platform, allows third-party apps and websites to integrate with your Facebook account and exchange data with them via developer tools. It can be convenient for users, such as decreasing the number of login/password combinations you need to remember, but it has potential for abuse.

When you use the "Log in With Facebook" feature on a site, you grant a third-party app or service access to your Facebook account. It will ask for permission to receive specific Facebook data from you - email address, birthdate, gender, public posts, likes and also things beyond your basic profile info. I have seen cases where when I deny access to some information, it tells me the app can't be loaded. That is a warning. But some legitimate apps, like the scheduling apps Hootsuite and Buffer, do need a lot of permissions in order to allow them to post as you on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. In these cases, by using the app I need to trust that developer and the service it is connecting to via an API.

Being educated about how technology works and knowing how you can protect your own data and privacy is more important than ever. And, of course, you can always not use a service that doesn't seem to help you do that.

Your Social Credit Score

data wave

You don't have a social credit score today, but you might in the near future.

I have been thinking a lot about this topic since first hearing of a Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government that is starting to take shape. It is essentially a national reputation system with the intent to assign a "social credit" rating to every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

If it sounds more like a science-fiction horror story of the future, that was what I thought at first. It reminded me of a 2016 episode of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror shown on Netflix. In that episode ("Nosedive"), people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, and the protagonist is someone obsessed with her ratings. When her rating drops, she panics and goes on a campaign to bring her score back up.

A Chinese app called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score. "Zhima Credit" rates you from 350-950 based on finances and and other factors. 

Reputation systems are not brand new ideas. They are programs that allow users to rate each other in online communities in order to build trust through reputation. You already have a reputation score if you use E-commerce websites such as eBay, Amazon.com, and Etsy or online advice communities such as Stack Exchange. Reputation systems are a trend in decision support for Internet mediated services such as shopping and advice.

A variation is collaborative filtering which aims to find similarities between users in order to recommend products to customers.

The Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government is meant to rate every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.  Does that sound like a mass surveillance tool using big data analysis technology? Well, it is.

On the surface, it is a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market. This can be called "surveillance capitalism," a term (introduced by John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney) that denotes a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance.

The idea was popularized by Shoshana Zuboff who says it emerged due to the "coupling of the vast powers of the digital with the radical indifference and intrinsic narcissism of the financial capitalism and its neoliberal vision that have dominated commerce for at least three decades, especially in the Anglo economies."

It is a new new expression of power she calls "Big Other" which makes me think of a new novel plot combining Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, in the Internet Information Age. She feels the concept was first discovered and consolidated at Google, who are to surveillance capitalism what Ford and General Motors were to mass-production and managerial capitalism a century ago.

Facebook and others have since adopted the concept for ways to extract, commodify and control behavior to produce new markets of behavioral prediction and modification.

The Chinese government's "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)" focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be "societal integrity."

One news story I heard said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored - trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police? Eight companies were picked by the People's Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said in a frightening quote I can use in that new novel that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

Her is hoping that you will be able to move freely and without obstruction in the future.