The Cost of Doing Business Online: Trolls

Internet Trolls

There have been way too many instances of late in which online detractors or idiots (read: trolls) have shown up on my social media radar screen.  I envision many of them looking like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but I continue to be amazed at how people can take legitimate social media activities and turn them into their own personal platforms for extraordinarily insensitive commentary.  Free speech?  Sure.  But exercising free speech still doesn’t excuse you from being a complete moron.

Example #1:  Season Affective Disorder Twitter Chat

An agency of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), has conducted several Twitter chats, covering a wide variety of topics related to mental health.  I don’t have any scientific data to back it up, but I imagine that it’s hard for people to go on a highly public and visible platform like a Twitter chat, discuss their own mental illness or feelings of depression – and have their comments linked back to the personal profile.  It must be really hard.

On November 13, 2014, NIMH conducted a Twitter chat about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – good timing as the amount of light available in daytime hours in going down many places and SAD affects a lot of people, especially at this time of year.

As I’m working, I’m watching the chat out of the corner of my eye, when one particular tweet showed up – and told me that the trolls have arrived:

What?  Racist?  And what the hell are those pictures? I suppose that one could argue that the troll on the other end of the tweet may well have suffered from some form of mental illness, but then I saw another tweet:

As people were discussing how certain light boxes how shown to be very effective at helping those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, the troll posted this:

Not cool.  It then occurred to me that whomever was doing this was trolling a Twitter chat on mental illness – a tough topic for people to talk about, let alone in a highly public way.  To their credit, no one, especially those at NIMH engaged with this troll and he/she eventually went away.  I believe, however, that making light of mental illness during a social media event pretty much makes you a complete asshole.

Example #2:  New England Patriots and Twitter

November 13 must have been International Troll Day.  Ask the New England Patriots.

With a brand new Twitter account and in an attempt to quickly reach one million followers, their social media team created a clever way to attract people to their Twitter account and have people follow them – they created a Twitter bomb.  The Patriots’ social media team enabled people to enter certain text and said text would appear verbatim on the back of a Patriots’ jersey in the form of a tweet.   They were expecting people to enter their last names, a neat way to show your Patriots fever.  A very cool idea for whomever came up with it:

And that’s when it went wrong.  Very wrong.  As the Boston Globe wrote,

99.99 percent of their fandom who just wanted to share in their social media celebration. But it’s always that 0.01 percent that causes 100 percent of the problems.”

And that 0.01 percent did exactly that, creating a jersey using the “n word” made up of letters and numbers.  And unfortunately, it went viral.  A troll had gotten through the keyword filters that the Patriots set up (I am not going to post the tweet as not to give the person further exposure) and before the Patriots’ social media team could react, the post went viral (it was up for more than an hour, which is the only thing for which I would criticize the effort – you have GOT to have a warning system in place if you automate an effort like this).  After said hour, the tweet was taken down, but as I’ve said in the past, the Internet is forever and screen shots rule the day.

Trolls 1, New England Patriots, 0.

Much has been written about this mistake, so I won’t provide a lot of additional commentary.  My only point would be that if the Patriots were looking to go from zero to one million followers using an automated method (and they were going to sleep at some point), there is no way possible that humans could have prevented this.  Moreover, most of the social media accounts I manage have keyword filters as well, but the 0.01 percent of the trolls will always find a way to do 100 percent of the damage.  Thankfully, no one got fired. And the Patriots social media team quickly apologized:

Like the Globe writer, Bill Speros commented this was a mistake fed by clever trolls:

“If every person in America was fired after they made a mistake at work, our nation’s unemployment rate would be 99 percent by the end of next week.”

Agreed.

Where there is the Internet, there will always be trolls.  No matter how serious the subject, nor how insensitive the message, there will always be someone about .01 percent more clever and devious than a good social media team.

Does it mean we should stop?  No way.  I’ll keep doing Twitter chats, Google Hangouts and maintaining many social media properties – but I do so with the knowledge that on one particular day at one particular time, I’ll get trolled.

It’s the new normal, and the unfortunate cost of doing business online.

Image credit: Dr. Platypus, Flickr Commons

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My (Podcast) Roundtable Rants, Part Deux

Man yelling

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing yet another fun and sometimes cantankerous Media Bullseye Roundtable podcast with my good friend, Chip Griffin, CEO and founder of the Custom Scoop media empire.

Among the topical issues that we covered were:

Crazy, right?

Have a listen here, or:

Mark

Image: DieselDemon, via Flickr Commons

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The Damage Done to the Ferguson Debate by Slactivism

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 7.45.14 PM
Social media can do a lot of good.  It can connect people, spawn romance, spread news before even major outlets have it, or contribute to the overthrow of dictators.  And depending upon your point of view, have a serious financial impact for non-profit fundraising  (see Ice Bucket Challenge, although while sometimes annoying, has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 27).

But I have become increasingly dismayed by what I view to be the damage that irresponsible use of social media has caused over the last couple of weeks, principally the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  In my mind, people have increasingly made their social media properties billboards for the latest poorly-Photoshopped picture of a candle that make you feel like you’re a total jerk if you don’t JOIN the cause and pass on the aforementioned picture of the candle.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “slactivism” is a combination of the words “slacker” and “activist.”  Wikipedia defines slactivism as:

The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed.

So picture someone sitting on their couch, perusing Facebook or Twitter, Liking, Sharing a picture of a sick child on Facebook, or re-tweeting something just because, for example, it has a hashtag that describes a situation that they feel passionate about – like #Ferguson.  And doing nothing else, but reveling in that self-congratulatory glow that can come only from having make yourself feel good about being an activist without even leaving your couch.  Oh – and pass the Fritos, please.

The slactivists have taken over the interwebs over the last several weeks.  And it’s not helping.

#Ferguson

Over the last few weeks, #Ferguson has been a trending topic on Twitter and Facebook and has dominated the national news.  It’s a terrible situation and one that has yet to play out fully.

Why is slactivism a problem regarding Ferguson?

In order to make the situation better,  what we need is information, not uninformed opinion.  #Ferguson became a political statement.  “Hey, I hate the police/don’t hate the police, so I’m going to use #Ferguson in my tweet.”

Resolution in Ferguson will come from research, understanding, compassion and grasping the other person’s point of view, and right now, that ain’t happening.  Why?

Tony Haile is CEO of Chartbeat, a company that “…measure[s] what matters so you can take action when it matters.”  They gather data.  So I take Tony at his word on this.

In case you don’t want to investigate, trust me that most people don’t actually READ the articles or blog posts contained in the links that they share.  They read the headline, and whammo bammo, re-tweet done.   Slactivist pat on the back administered.  Back to the Fritos.  People are fanning the flames and passing along information based upon a hashtag or a few words in a tweet, and not on the more detailed information that often accompanies the link.

And in the process, this sort of slactivism can create a a trending topic on Twitter – making it possible for others to see the link and do the same.  And the situation becomes self-perpetuating.

Passing on #Ferguson without reading – and thinking about – the corresponding information is the offline equivalent of recommending a chiropractor to a friend based upon the name of the practice, without ever actually having visited the chiropractor.  But with much more serious consequences.

When people see a popular (or incendiary) hashtag, read a few words of a description in Twitter and then endorse the underlying content by re-tweeting it – this is slactivism accomplished.  And yes, “endorse.”  That’s why so many people like me are required by our employers to state that re-tweets do not equal endorsement.  Because that’s what people perceive.

Has there been some very good, compassionate discourse surrounding the situation in Ferguson?  Absolutely.  And I have read quite a bit of it.  And I have also been flamed on my Facebook page for expressing my views.  But where social media harms us is that it makes it so easy – SO TEMPTING –  to hit that “re-tweet,” Like or Share without even taking the time to even know the point of view or judging the credibility of the information that they are passing on.

At some point in this social media chain, people will read the information passed on via social media.  What  will this be?  What point of view will it present?  How will it help make things better (real activism), than clicking on something then moving on to see what’s new on Netflix (slactivism)?

The answer is that I sure don’t know.  But what I do know is that the noise to signal ratio around a topic like Ferguson can helped by people providing real-time, on the ground information using social media, but this can barely be one percent of instances.  The other 99% of the people are NOT there, and information that is being endorsed, shared and spread is not likely even be read by the person who is sharing it.

That’s sad.  That’s harmful.  And that is how social media is hurting – not helping – the situation in Ferguson.

Wanna feel good about yourself?  Be an activist.  Start a petition drive. Volunteer in a homeless shelter.  Want to be a couch potato, endorse  information that you haven’t even read, let alone considered?

Welcome to the wonderful world of slactivism.

Image: Peters Gadgets

 

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Cross Post: If you love your social media message, set it free – case study

I have been doing some freelance work for AgentGenius/AGBeat run my my friend, Lani Rosales, and last week wrote and article about how NOT to do social media on Facebook.

According to Scott Monty of Ford, National Car Rental was deleting negative posts about their brand from their Facebook page.Screen Shot 2011-10-25 at 9.08.45 AM

Bad, bad, bad.  Whole article is here.

Happy reading.

Mark

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Twitter, Moods and a Screaming Grasp of the Obvious

In this morning’s Washington Post there is an article entitled “Tweets tweet our emotional status.”  This article is both mundane and presents and screamingly firm grasp of the obvious.

The premise of the article is as our moods change, so do the tone of our tweets.  Well, duh.  An excerpt:

Optimism is reborn with each new day and slowly erodes as we work, study and go about our quotidian affairs. Our mood lifts as we head home to friends, family, entertainment and beer. Our outlook tends to be sunnier on weekends. And speaking of sun, when it starts to pile up in the spring or disappear in the fall, that affects our mood, too.

Well, there’s some groundbreaking news.  We hate work, errands, and love to party.  I know very few people who, on their deathbeds would say “Gosh, I wish I had done just one more day at work…[cue EKG sound of flat-lining].

There are a couple of things that caught my eye in the article, which to be honest, is not really worth reading unless you have not make the connection that we tend to share our emotions with others – or are perhaps more likely to do so via social media.  But here’s something interesting:

A new study in the journal Science examined the contents of more than 500 million tweets sent in 84 countries over two years, looking for signs of good moods and bad. It found what a lot of us could tell by looking at our own lives.

Let me see if I get this straight:  it took people or Cornell University two years, 500 million tweets and 84 countries to prove that people have emotions that go up and down and are shared via Twitter?  Wow!  And if you are a Cornell alumni donor, I would think carefully about where your money is going before writing the next check.  Just another manic mondayI doubt that you are getting a new basketball arena any time soon.

But it was the last part of the article that caused me to spit out my (expensive) Starbucks coffee:

“This is a stone in the foundation of a new social science that is being built,” said Nicholas A. Christakis, a sociologist at Harvard University who was not involved in the research. “We’re in a similar place that we were in in the 17th century with the discovery of the telescope and microscope.

Telescope.  Microscope.  17th century?  I suppose that sending a man to the moon, working on discovering a cure for cancer or eradicating such diseases as polio are way down on the list.

I think what chafes my saddle sores is that first, this is viewed as serious research rather than a firm grasp of the obvious, or second, a formerly great newspaper like the Washington Post found it newsworthy – in the A section, no less.

What’s next?  “One billion dollar study from the University of Phoenix shows that giving someone the middle finger in traffic may be tied to annoyance?”

Yeah.  Annoyance like reading this steaming pile of  pseudo-journalism.

Mark

P.S. – I would normally state something here like “Image source:  Washington Post,”  but I am pretty sure they would kick my ass if they read this post.

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