Sharing is (at least kind of) Caring

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In recent years, it seems like every major company has produced at least one ad that is less about their brand and more about the world where they (and we all) live.

Social good advertising, or when a brand/company uses its ad dollars to promote a cause or issue, has been around for a while, decades even. But I doubt you can remember one from more than five or six years ago. That’s because, without the Internet, social good advertising is an infant struggling to scoot along a hardwood floor. Social good advertising could simply not survive without the Internet.

Why is that? Aren’t ads that have such a strong and powerful message more likely to capture consumers attention than their purely commercial counterparts? Aren’t they the ones we tell our colleagues about around the water cooler at work the next day, leaving behind the banal office gossip? Shouldn’t these ads spur us into action when most of the time, we are content to sit passively on our couches? Well, yes.
But without the on-demand, click-and-share capabilities we find sitting at a keyboard, social good advertising only does a little bit of good. The Internet is fast and easy, allowing us to share something that we see with hundreds, thousand, potentially millions of others. So when we see something, we agree (or disagree) emotionally, and politically online, all it takes is copying a link and heading over to Facebook to increase the word-of-mouth spread the ad would have experienced (before the Internet) exponentially, going viral.

When social good messaging/advertising goes viral, it makes me feel a little better about the world. It serves as a memory of why the Internet truly is a good thing. So often, we see videos of rude 13-year-olds with a poor sense of grammar and pronunciation blowing up on the Internet and cashing in on the ‘fame’ that it makes you feel even worse about the state of the world. And before you get up on that high horse, I know that there are plenty of worse things going on around the world than annoying people on the Internet. But that’s kind of my point.

When a social good ad goes viral, it reminds us all of the issues the world is facing, the issues that we may have forgotten in our daze of cat gifs and hashtags. It reminds us that there is something more important going on. It reminds us that people, even if only a fraction of the world population, actually care and that we should too.

I know that sharing a social good ad only does so much good, that there is always more to be done, off the Internet. But by sharing, you give that ad a little more life. You’re offering up one more push to help it get into the right hands, even if those could be your own. It’s small, yes. It could be more, yes. But it’s a start. And who knows where it may eventually lead.Shareblogpost photo



The Government’s Big (Data) Deal


It is highly likely that when the terms data and the U.S. government are mentioned in the same breath, it is highly likely that most of our minds will go straight to the National Security Administration (NSA) and their wiretapping, among others, scandal which was brought to light by Edward Snowden in June 2013. Immediately, following the release, Americans divided into three groups: one, composed of those who think of Edward Snowden as a national traitor that compromised the security of our armed forces overseas and our citizens at home; two, made up of those who were outraged by the knowledge that our government was spying on us daily; and three, composed of those who fall somewhere in between. (Side note: It turns out most of us fall into group three, as John Oliver and the crew at Last Week Tonight discovered.)

For those who fall into group two, it can be easy to become completely turned off by the idea of the Government using big data, especially if you don’t realize the full scope of how the two interact with each other. Truth be told, until this week, while I wouldn’t exactly fall into this grouping of people, I, too, was unaware of many of the positive effects the derived from our government’s relationship with big data.

In his article, “6 Incredible Ways Big Data Is Used by the US Government,” big-data-specialist Bernard Marr, in an unexpected twist, recounts six ways that the Government uses big data. Some may say that these are incredible! All jokes aside, the six uses of big data have led to developments that will potentially have a huge positive impact on the future of our country, and, very likely, the world.

For example, using of big data, governmental health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can track the spread of potentially life-threatening illnesses using social media. Additionally, national law enforcement agencies (at federal, state and county levels) uses big data to help track down anyone with outstanding warrants (via license plate recognition software), to pinpoint areas where crime may occur, and to link particular crimes to former offenders.

Certainly, we can all agree that these developments are for the better for us as a nation, and without big data, not only would they not currently exist, but it may have been many more years before we would have the technologies necessary to make even the thought of them possible. Also, keep in mind that these are just a few of the early developments to follow our country’s early exploration of the capabilities of big data. Who knows what else is to come?

So, let the jury remain out on the relationship between the U.S. government and big data. Do not condemn it because of one, admittedly shitty, aspect. Wait a little bit, and you just might be surprised where our relationship with big data made lead.

Please Post Responsibly: The Ethical Responsibilities of Internet Influencers

Felix Kjellberg, aka Pewdiepie. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, news broke that Disney’s digital influencer agency, Maker Studios, broke with perhaps the biggest Internet influencer on their roster. Felix Kjellberg, better known by his handle, Pewdiepie, current sits at approximately 53.3 million subscribers on YouTube. Excluding the compilation channels YouTube runs for Music, Sports, and Gaming, this number makes him the top most subscribed-to channel on the website. So, in terms of business, it makes sense that the entertainment giant would recruit YouTube’s top star. Until this week, when it didn’t.

Disney made the decision to cut ties with Kjellberg in response to questions posed to the company by Wall Street Journal writers for an article outlining instances of anti-Semitism in some of the 27-year-old Swede’s videos. In a statement released to Time Magazine, Disney acknowledged that Kjellberg had derived his following “by being provocative and irreverent” but this time, “he clearly went too far” and that the “videos are inappropriate.” Later that same day, Google canceled plans for a second season of the influencer’s YouTube Red reality program, “Scare PewdiePie,” in response to the same article and removed his channel from the Google Preferred, the company’s premium advertising program.

In a statement posted on his Tumblr blog, Kjellberg apologized for the offensive nature regarding the most recent of the videos in question. He echoed the sentiment in a video on his YouTube channel just today, before quickly turning the blame on the media, specifically the WSJ, for attacking him by taking things out of context.

Whether or not you believe this claim, there is no question that the main source Kjellberg needs to blame is himself. No one else has control over the content he produces. He put these messages out there, and people have noticed. He must now deal with the backlash.
It is not known if Kjellberg intended to become a role model when he started his channel in 2010, but nevertheless, he is one to many. Therefore, as a media/entertainment professional, it can be argued that he has an ethical responsibility to at least attempt to steer his following in the right moral direction regarding issues of race, gender, religion and the many other social issues that exist in our world. By promoting hate, regardless of its status as a joke or not, Kjellberg is telling 53 million people that it is okay to act this way and, statistically, there is a certainty some of them will believe him.

For celebrities like Kjellberg, those in the group who have derived their fame from the Internet, the lack of ethical responsibility is not a rare issue. This may be the first time that you have heard of it, but it certainly isn’t the first time it’s happened. In 2014, British YouTuber Sam Pepper came under fire for posting a video “prank” featuring him pitching women’s butts with a fake hand. Critics said the video promoted sexual assault and in the weeks that followed, women came forward with evidence of harassment at the hands of Pepper. Although Pepper later disclosed that his butt-pinch videos were scripted, the scandal led to a quick fall from grace. Yet, he still had his defenders. Those who argued that the video was just a joke and that those who take it seriously as idiots.

And there we have the problem. Pepper, in his influence, has either convinced or in some cases emboldened, a group of his viewers to believe that sexual assault on women is somewhat okay if committed in jest. And as anyone in the right mind knows, that is NOT the case.

Maybe the quick ascent to fame experienced by many Internet influencers has left them unprepared for the responsibilities of such stardom. Maybe their age (many influencers tend to be in their twenties, and some are even still in their teens) has prevented them from developing an understanding of the power they now have. Whatever the case, the fact is that they are reaching a huge audience, the majority of which is compromised of impressionable young people who are still in the process of creating their moral compasses. The influencers must be aware of this and make their content with this in mind.

So my message to all the Internet stars, and wannabe stars, out there is this: There will always be hateful people out there. Internet trolls are not going away. It is part of your job, what you are being paid to do, not to promote this behavior. Create you videos with tolerance and compassion in mind and use them to spread messages of love and understanding. This is a responsibility that comes with your fame and if you are unwilling to accept that, please do us, and the world, all a favor and delete your account.

Harsh, I know, but this isn’t the time to sugarcoat.

What Does a New F.C.C. Chairman Mean for Net Neutrality and the Digital Divide?

Wikimedia Commons

Do you consider access to the Internet as a necessary utility?
If you answered no, I hate to break this to you, but the F.C.C. thinks you’re wrong. At least they did, until earlier this month.
In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that broadband Internet is not luxury service for American, but rather an essential one that should be available to all. The ruling, which was contested in court by cable, telecom and wireless internet providers only to be upheld in 2016, seemed to be a major step to bridging the digital divide. It was taken further in March 2016 when the F.C.C. finalized a plan to subsidized Internet access for low-income households.
            But with a new President, usually, comes a new head of the F.C.C. and now, it appears, we may be, once again, stumbling backward. Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the F.C.C., stop some of these progressive efforts, stating that they were “beyond the agency’s legal authority.
            Pai, previously a commissioner of the agency since his nomination in 2012, stated that he was for a “free and open Internet” and sees the closing of the digital divide as a top priority, but disagrees with the classification of it as a utility, meaning that it will not have to be as highly regulated. The fear of net-neutrality advocates is that this decrease in regulations will result in high service prices and decreased access to certain sites. And as the digital divide regards the access to Internet, and income is one of the main social factors leading to its creation, it seems that for the digital divide to truly diminish, some aspects of net neutrality, and its regulations, must be enforced.
Only time will tell how Pai will proceed in regards to net neutrality and the digital divide. While he has remained mostly silent regarding neutrality related policies, he has, to his credit, discussed alternative ways to bring high-speed broadband access to low-income areas and stated that this initiative is his highest priority. Let us just hope it stays that way.



A Walk Through The Social Network Graveyard


Take a second and think back to the first social networking site you ever used. Was it MySpace, Friendster, Xanga? Depending on age, the answers will vary, but unless you’re under the age of twenty, and you’ve only ever had a Facebook, it is very unlikely that the first social networking site you used is as popular as it used to be.
Social networking sites (SNS) come in and out of fashion much like clothing trends. And also like clothing trends, most of the old favorite SNSs never truly die, but rather hang about the fringe of the Internet, waiting for the moment that they become “in” again. But if you search hard enough, you may happen upon a graveyard that houses the tombs of the few SNSs and apps that have succumbed. And like a mourner, bemoaning the unexpected death of a close friend, you can’t help but ask: “why?”
As you journey through the silent hills that make up the Social Network Graveyard, laying flowers on the plots marking the dearly departed websites and apps, there are many you won’t remember. The death is likely because they served too niche a purpose to make it on the general public’s radar. Then there are those you have heard of, who graves are lined with flowers from users indulging in a bit of nostalgia. There is Friendster (which technically still exists, but not in its original form) and Yahoo360. There is Meerkat, who burned brightly for a short, sad time. And then, there is the latest casualty, Vine, whose grave is marked by a mound of freshly turned earth. Then there are those is the nursing home next door: Google+, Myspace, Xanga, Digg, and others. They are living day by day, hoping for a miracle cure and fighting off imminent death.
Every single one of them had their legion of loyal fans who proclaimed their accolades and defended their honor. They were the subjects of debates and tech articles proclaiming their genius. And then one day, something new came along (most autopsies can point to Facebook as the cause of death) and the sense of loyalty their believed their fans possessed was quickly forgotten, replaced by mesmerized dreams of new technology and better features.
It’s a sad cycle, it must be said. That something that was once so loved can be so easily disregarded because something shinier has entered the picture. But it is a cycle that will continue to be repeated. It can be argued that one day, maybe sooner than we think, the only thoughts we will spare Facebook and Twitter are those that come in a moment of nostalgia. Forever to be preceded by a “remember when.”

Chasing The Long Tail


Last year, it was reported in a study by UPS and comScore that for the first time in history, shoppers buying more things online than in stores. Shoppers now indicate that approximately 51% of their purchases are made online, compared to 48% in 2015 and 47% in 2014.

While there are likely many factors that have contributed to this change in consumer behavior, after reading “The Long Tail” by Wired writer Chris Anderson, as well as The Economist’s “Hidden in the Long Tail,” it seems to me that the most powerful force behind this shift is the titular, long tail.

The Long Tail is simply a vast collection of products, outside the popular items one could find easily in stores, that create a significant source of revenue for an e-commerce retailer, despite their lack of major individual demand. Anderson explained it well by relating it to the music website Rhapsody:

“But a really interesting thing happens once you dig below the top 40,000 tracks, which is about the amount of the fluid inventory (the albums carried that will eventually be sold) of the average real-world record store. …

‘The Rhapsody demand, however, keeps going. Not only is every one of Rhapsody’s top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As fast as Rhapsody adds tracks to its library, those songs find an audience, even if it’s just a few people a month, somewhere in the country.”

Thinking on the idea of the long tail more, it made sense to me that you could find loads of more products on a site like Amazon than you could on the shelves at Target. You have limited shelf space at Target and Amazon can always add more pages to their site. What surprised me, however, was the profitability of the items that make up the long tail.

Anderson mentions in his article that some e-commerce retailers make a significant portion of their profits from the sale of these “niche” items. Even if they only sell a few of each item during a year, the sheer number of niche items results in higher profits. Add to this the assertion provided by The Economist article that these niche items are often priced higher online than they would be in stores (due to the basic principles of supply and demand), and you have an even higher consolidated profit.

The long tail is a genuinely interesting topic, but it must be acknowledged that without the Internet, it likely wouldn’t. The Internet is almost limitless in size, making it easier for retailers to offer more products on their sites. The Internet know no bounds, anyone anywhere can get any product they want, regardless of location, which often affects supply levels at brick and mortar stores. The Internet is a place where purchasing habits and other information can be easily linked, making the discovery of other products a certain consumer may enjoy an effortless process. The Internet has provided a lot more for the e-commerce industry than actually making it possible, but either we don’t realize it, or we take it for granted.