11/3/17

Are social media improving human interactions and creating community?


Social media have now permeated all aspects of life. They have become part of our interactions with family, friends, and our communities. They have been integrated with work and commerce, dating and sex, health and well-being, information gathering, and spirituality.
It is an appropriate time to reflect on the extent to which they fulfil their promise improve human interactions and community.
Because of their communicative abilities, their institutional arrangement, and the ways we use them, social media produce effects and create issues that cannot be dismissed and ignored. Contemporary events and research are revealing significant effects of social media and the issues they pose for society.
The critical issues surrounding social media use and policy efforts involve authenticity of the communication, artificiality of community, individual behavioral and cognitive issues, narcissistic and dangerous behaviors, and anonymity and anti-social behavior.

Authenticity of the communication
Concerns about two types of authenticity are raised in social media use. The first involves the genuineness of the involvement and participation in activities and events. The second involves the extent to which one’s true self and character are revealed and the influence of external influences on that revelation
Although social media allow communication, they tend to reduce participation in and authenticity of experience by imposing themselves on experiences, sometimes becoming more important the experiences themselves. Their mere use interferes with absorption of the experience, atmosphere, and emotions and the processing their meaning and significance. This limits observation, contemplation and significance of experience.
Authenticity is also challenged because much social media activity involves performance and image creation. This involves presenting an image of self that one would like others to perceived. Most social media posts show us as happy, active, enjoying life, interesting, and successful. This raises issues of whether we are who we say we are; how accurately we portray ourselves and our emotions; and if we present ourselves or who we would like to be?

Artificiality of community
Artificiality involves movement away from naturalness and originality. It involves construction of something through imitation and affectedness that is not as genuine or pure as that being contrived. There are significant issues surrounding the genuineness of social media communities that call into question its success at creating community.
Social media create a false sense of closeness and community. We may have many acquaintances on social media, but most of us have few true friends there. There are few real intimate interactions using social media.
Community is also challenged because social media separate as well as bring individual together. Rather than making us part of larger communities, social media fragment us into smaller groups. This creates communities and groups based on group and interest affinity. These narrow communities tend to produce “echo chambers” of opinions and ideas rather than exposure to diverse ideas and opinions. We don’t expose ourselves to different people and ideas. We pay attention to and hear only comfortable opinions

Individual behavioral and cognitive issues
Social media have been associated with many behavioral and cognitive issues by social science and health researchers.
Social media use is associated with reduction in physical activity and this is especially a problem among teens. This issue tends to lead to depression and weight gain
Social media use is associated with reduced attention span and Interferes with listening and learning. It promotes short attention spans to mediated content and tends to heighten attention deficit disorder.
Researchers have shown that social media can intensify existing psychological conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, addictive compulsion, narcissistic personality disorder, body dysmorphia, social anxiety, social isolation, depression, and voyeurism. Although social may not be the cause of the conditions, social media use creates conditions that makes them worse.

Narcissistic and dangerous behaviors
Social media promote narcissistic and dangerous individual behaviors. They induce and reward narcissistic exhibitionism in which individuals make themselves the center of attention, intrude on activities and events, act selfishly, and disregard the suffering of other. This is seen in photos people take and share of themselves at accidents, fires, and tragedies.
Social media can lead to risky behaviors, such as hanging from high buildings or cliffs. Their use reduces awareness of surroundings and each year thousands of people die walking into paths of vehicles, being attacked by animals they are photographing themselves with, and by using social media while driving.
Other forms of unsafe social media behavior observed include sharing too much information, trusting anonymous relationships, addictive symptoms, and sexting and sexcasting.

Anonymity and anti-social behavior
Anonymity involves being unidentifiable. When anonymity exists, it reduces the bonds of community, connections to others, and social obligations. It produces impersonality and diminishes the sense of responsibility for one’s actions.
Anonymity increases bad behavior in digital media. It releases individuals from the restraints of social norms, makes individuals more willing to make negative and outrageous statements, increases willingness to use language not normally used, and creates ability to threaten and attack without disclosure of source.
Social media thus create a hospitable and less observable environment for bullying, extortion, and stalking. Women are particularly harshly targeted online and in social media by other women and men. Their physical attributes adjudged and maligned, mental abilities denigrated, threats of violence and rape are made after they express opinions on issues, and coordinated attacks are sometimes made by multiple parties.
Social media have also become vehicles for hate speech, trolling, and threats against racial, ethnic and religious minorities and those with opinions that others disagree.
Social media create enhanced potential for manipulation and propaganda because source of information or advertisements are often uncertain or less evident and because of difficulty checking accuracy or veracity. Social media are especially problematic because they rapidly spread and repeat messages. Such repetition of misinformation or false information leads to its acceptance by large numbers of people.
Increasing policy intervention and demands
These issues and use factors are creating significant public policy challenges globally. For the most part, digital platforms are without responsibility or—in some cases—shame. Most perceive themselves as common carriers. Most don’t believe they have responsibility for, or they are uncomfortable with, determining how people use their platforms or what they say. Many social media executives have difficulty seeing or admitting the effects of their activities.
Social media thus create a conundrum involving the values of individual expression and desires for a noble social ethos, a nurturing culture, and the maintenance of social order. Demands for regulation of social media are increasingly globally, mainly because existing policies, laws and regulations are often not suited for effectively dealing with challenges and issues that social media pose.
The greatest efforts are focused on child pornography, extremist uses and posting, hate speech, and copyright violations. Germany now provides fines up to $60 million for not removing hate speech within 24 hours of notification, the U.K. is trying to establish a 2-hour take down time for extremist posting, and the U.S. Congress considering measures to control political advertising on social media.
Increasing efforts are also being made to address stalking, revenge porn, bullying, and encouragement of suicide.
There is growing social pressure for self-regulation by social media. This is being promoted as corporate social responsibility activities because uses of the platforms are increasingly important to their own reputations, share values, and avoiding regulation. Primary issues companies are trying to address are harassment and threats, portrayals of suicides and encouragement of suicide, fake news, manipulative advertising, and false accounts.
This brings us back to the question: Are social media improving human interactions and creating community?
The answer is “Yes but….”
Yes. They make it easier for individuals to communicate and create narrow communities in ways not possible in the past, but it comes at a cost....A good part of the communication is disingenuous, artificial, and socially detrimental.
Social media are relative new to society, but this is not the first time new technologies and new communication opportunities have appeared in society and posed new social issues. History has shown that it takes time for society to adjust to the transforming developments and the challenges they create. It takes time for the implications to be understood, for new institutional and economic arrangements to develop, for their values and norms to be established, and for policy and regulation to appear.
That understanding is developing and responses are underway. The overall trend for social media and the internet is now one of it becoming tamed, commercialized, and constrained. The degree to which they become so and how it will affect their abilities and effects remain to be seen, however.

2/3/17

When is it time to deny media access and coverage?


Journalists and news organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere are increasingly wrestling with how to deal with alternative facts, untruths, and lies spread by political figures, government officials, and their supporters. These are not merely moral issues for journalists, but also will influence the sustainability of news organizations.
Neither accurately reporting false statements, nor reporting and challenging them, are adequate responses to continual misuse of the media and deliberate efforts to use the media to mislead the public. This, of courses, raises the thorny question of when to deny media access and coverage to individuals noted for engaging in those acts.
How they are handled depends upon their position. Elected officials should be treated differently than their advisors, aides, and supportive commentators and apologists. This occurs because elected officials and party leaders are accountable to the public through the ballot box, whereas others are not.
When elected officials or party leaders are untruthful they should be continually challenged and their lies exposed. When others are involved, journalists should not merely challenge and expose their lies, however. Journalists and their news organizations must not allow themselves to become pawns in manipulation and propagandistic efforts and should stop inviting those who would do so onto public affairs shows, not interview them for news stories, and not cover their public appearances.
These practices are designed to halt influence from those who are consistent purveyors of untruths and continually spread falsehoods. Their lack of intention to engage in open discussion and honest debate makes them unsuitable for exposure in serious journalistic forums. There are others with similar views who can fulfil those requirements.
Journalists have obligations to their readers, listeners, and viewers and society to pursue truth and facilitate healthy and truthful debate that presents differing perspectives. But they also have obligations to ensure that serial liars, wanton propagandists, and inflammatory speakers who deliberately distort and do not engage in honest debate are not provided platforms.
This is important because research shows that original claims are better remembered and given more credibility than media challenges and corrections, especially those coming 24-48 hours later.
Choices to deny access or coverage should be made only to determine how issues, ideas, and policies are discussed and presented in media and by whom, not to stop their discussion or examination. Decisions of who will speak should be based on the past behavior of individuals. Denials of access and coverage should occur to individuals who are likely to deceive or deliberately confuse, thus harming the public and their understanding of public issues.
These are challenging times for democracy and for journalists. Great care in how ideas, policies, and claims are presented is necessary to ensure that citizens are effectively served by journalism. If journalism cannot rise to the occasion in difficult periods, there is little reason for it to exist. If news organizations and journalists do not act, they risk their sustainability. Lack of relevance, loss of credibility, and diminished trust will do more to promote the demise of firms than any changes to its technologies and business model.

11/17/16

The quixotic pursuit of media independence



National and international media development and aid programs often embrace the objective of developing independent media as a means of promoting democratic development.  They do so in hopes of reducing political power over media, but fail to acknowledge that all media and communication infrastructures are systemically influenced by economic and social, as well as political power. And they often seem to ignore the reality that the history and cultures of nation states affect how that power is exercised. Media systems and their content, and the degree of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, are reflections of the alignment of the dominant cultural elements in society.

Even in the West, most notably within European Union and Council of Europe governing institutions, efforts to promote media independence are gaining significant support—particularly when applied to media in Central and Eastern Europe.

The term media independence is often used naively and imprecisely, consequently those pursuing it often appear to be pursuing something that exists nowhere and is an impossible dream.  Independence is really evidenced by its opposite; it is indicated by degrees of dependence or interdependence and their consequences, because full independence is impossible. Very often the term is used as an objective without even specifying independence from what and for what. 

Independence is affected by factors internal to media, such as ownership, decision-making control, and dependence on resources and revenue sources. It is also affected by external factors such as influence through persuasion and criticism, cooption through financial and other material support, and coercion through threats and retaliatory exercise of power.

One needs to be wary of the assumption that ownership determines independence of media. Many assume that state media are dependent and non-state media are independent. In reality, public service, privately owned commercial media, and foundation-supported media may or MAY NOT be independent. In Saudi Arabia, for example, state media are owned and operated by the monarchy and private media are owned by princes and persons close to the crown. There is little difference between them with issues of politics, economics, and social lives are addressed.  The press is relatively separate from government and politics in Germany but not in Hungary, yet it still represents an elite perspective.  Public service broadcasting is reasonably independent of government in Sweden, but not so in Serbia.

The state, the government, social elites and powerful individuals, funders such as sponsors, advertisers, and foundations, and media consumers all influence the amount of independence. The more those influences align, the greater independence is diminished. 

Programs aiding democratic development usually promote private, commercial media. Few efforts to support not-for-profit media outlets exist, however. Not-for-profits are emerging in response to independence challenges in private commercial media and public service broadcasting. Not-for-profits tend to be the most independent of media firms, but they can be dependent on sponsors and funders (parties, unions, churches, NGOs, foundations) and many face sustainability issues.

To create greater independence all media must ensure levels of dependence on any single source of funding are relatively low and that there are multiple sources of income (sponsors, foundations, consumers, members, advertisers, events) to spread dependence risks. A good rule of thumb is that if more than one-third of income is from one source, a media firm becomes vulnerable to influence and may become unsustainable if it is rapidly reduced.

Media independence is a lovely ideal, but can only be partly achieved in practice.

8/3/16

The Challenges of Succession at Viacom, CBS and Natonal Amusements



The current dispute over Sumner Redstone’s competency to make decisions regarding his firms is pitting company executives against family members and family members against each other, diverting significant attention from running the companies and revealing the challenges of governing a firm as its founder ages.

Redstone, who is now 92 and allegedly mentally incapacitated, had for many years planned his estate. He created a family trust that would take control over National Amusements after his death. National Amusements holds controlling interest in companies such as Viacom, CBS, Paramount Studios, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.

In recent months Redstone suddenly altered his will and estate gift plan and changed the trustees of the Redstone trust and the members of the Viacom board. This provoked a corporate and family drama about whether he is capable of making the changes or is being manipulated by his daughter Shari Redstone, who serves as President of National Amusements and vice-chair of Viacom and CBS. Those decisions are being challenged by company executives and other family members in courts in Delaware and Massachusetts.

The Redstone dispute reveals the fundamental challenges facing family owned and controlled firms upon the incapacitation or death of the founder. In many cases family members are disinterested in running the firm or do not have the business knowledge and skills to do so. In these cases they often wish to sell the family firm to obtain its wealth. In cases where family members have the ability to run a firm, they may prefer different company strategies than the founder, disagree with each other over what the strategies should be, or differ on how the wealth or control of the firm should be distributed among themselves. Because of these types of challenges, only about one third of family firms are passed to a second generation and only about 15 percent reach a third generation.

These challenges can be significantly heightened if the founder maintains personal control over the firm too long, does not let go of sufficient control to implement the changes before death, or does not create irrevocable arrangements. These conditions create an environment in which influence can subsequently be exercised over the founder that leads to disagreements and open disputes among interested parties.

Family firms must take significant care to avoid these situations if there is any hope for calm and successful succession.

7/20/16

The thorny problem of identity in digital data



The objectives of digital tracking are to identify users so marketers and content providers can know who users are, what their interests are, and how they relate to goods/services and content being promoted or provided. Although it is becoming easier to determine what individuals use digital devices, the ability to establish their identities still remains challenging because people have multiple, not just single, identities.

Identity has traditionally been defined by the individual’s relationship to institutions (families, tribes, nations, nation-states, and religions). Even within this conceptualization, individuals had multiple identities: mother, member, citizen, believer. Modernity and the development of global communications and social networks, however, have expanded our conceptualization of identity and give us even more identities, some of which loosen identity bonds previously held and some of which compete with each other.

The notion of identity is related to the concepts of distinctness and sameness. Identity is established when individuals perceive themselves as distinct from others and sharing sameness with others. In the past this led to identity being manifest as statements such as “I am German”, “I am Italian-American” or “I am a Buddhist”. The institutions representing these types of identities traditionally sought to promote them through social practices and policies designed to heighten identity, interaction with those sharing relatedness, and cognitive separation from others. Factors such as proximity, language, and daily social practices helped solidify these identities.

Although other identities have long existed, changes in communications have made make it much easier to assert, develop, and maintain political and cultural identities and communities based on affiliations with groups with unique characteristics that are smaller or involve more focused institutions. “I am Catalonian,” “I am Gay,” “I am a Social Democrat,” or “I am vegan” are reflections of these types of political and cultural identities. Professional identities such as “I am a scholar”, “I am a police officer”, or “I am a physician,” and shared activity identities such as “I am a sailor”, “I am a gamer”, or “I am a guitar player” all have identity and community elements that are meaningful in the lives of individuals. Websites, social media, and specialized communications now focus on solidifying these identities and communities.

Increasing global telephony, Internet, and social media capabilities have amplified business and social transactions worldwide, as has facile travel for business and personal purposes. This has facilitated frequent interaction with persons at great distances and made those interactions as easy as those with individuals in closer proximity.  This is creating new and greater senses of community and identity among persons who do not have regular physical connections.

Individuals thus embody many coexisting identities, but some can conflict and force individual choices between their importance and dismissal of their contradictions.  Such contradictions are seen in identities such as Gay Republicans, off-road vehicle users who value nature, and foodies who don’t care how their ingredients are produced.

Making sense of identity data gathered through online and mobile tracking thus requires a degree of sophistication not yet present in data collection or available to those making decisions with that data.  To get beyond gross categorization such as individuals interested in air travel, people with children, music lovers, or those seeking information about Indonesia will require finding ways to better capture and understand multiple identities and the ability to determine which are most salient to each individuals’ lives and behaviors. Overcoming that complexity still remains elusive, but will need to be found if digital data is to be used more effectively. Doing so, however, will raise even more questions about personal privacy and what information people want public about themselves and their identities.

2/12/16

Why do we think everyone should be regular news consumers?



Central to the angst and concern expressed about the future of news media and journalism is a fundamental conviction that everyone should be regular news consumers and consume similar amounts of news and information. Those of us who are interested in news and its social contributions appear to believe that everyone should be similarly engaged with news and public affairs.

When one reads articles and blogs and listens to speakers at industry conferences, one sees that the belief is driven by a number of arguments, fraught with self interest and wishful thinking:
  • News is our business. We want everyone to consume so we can make profit and increase the value of our enterprises.
  • News provides employment for us. We want jobs and the more opportunities.
  • News helps keep us socially, economically, and politically active. Everyone else should be active.
  • Democracy requires an informed public. The public is becoming less informed because of the current conditions in news provision.
The first two reasons for wanting everyone to consume news are clearly ones of self interest and not very compelling reasons why anyone should consume news. The latter two seem more credible arguments, but they are imaginary.

Most people are not highly active in society and don’t engage in the variety of activities that influence the structures and institutions of social, economic and political life. They have never done so; they do not do so now; and they never will. The majority are content to get on with their lives with minimal levels of engagement in politics and community life. Their primary economic activities are employment and consumption. Social engagement is typically limited to a few close friends, posting on social media, supporting sports teams, and participating in a limited number of clubs or churches—although participation in the latter gas declining significantly for decades.

Most people are content with a limited amount of news and information that has immediate impact on their lives, relying on others to provide leadership about what to do about public affairs and community issues. Indeed the history of the newspaper in the nineteen and twentieth centuries was based on adding non-news sections to appeal to those with limited news interest. When television news developed in the Twentieth Century news directors figured out most viewers didn't really like news after losing money on news operations for its first tens years. The presentation and types of stories offered in television news soon changed dramatically.

For the bulk of the population, regular and significant news consumption— much less paying for news—provides little satisfaction of their needs. We might normatively think they and their lives can be improved by news consumption, but they perceive little reason to do so. This does not, however, mean they ignore news altogether. Most of the public is content to get a quick general overview of major events or salient issues through limited exposure to news through free television, radio, and digital services. 

There are clearly differing benefits from the situational awareness provided by news and the amounts of situational awareness needed by members of society. Not everyone wants news regularly and we cannot expect them to suddenly shift their behavior. We do well to remember that when we carry on discussions of the future of news provision, business models of news organizations, and pay models of news.