Tag Archives: Facebook

Troll Control: Don’t feed the algorithms!

Have you ever known something but also not known it at the same time? That is, you intellectually know the facts around a subject, but emotionally or philosophically it takes you a while to connect the dots? I had that experience last week and when the realization hit me it was a revelation, so I thought I would pass it along to anyone else who might be struggling with this same issue.

Social Engineering via Social Media

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with social media since its inception. I have a very large family, as well as a network of friends and acquaintances that span the globe, so I love the ability to stay in touch via a simple and cheap communications tool. Cute baby photos, friends on vacation, funny memes from old classmates… that’s all lovely. I’ve also created group pages for my church, my condo association, and other families who have adopted from Blossom’s orphanage in China. I enjoy having a way to communicate with members of these various groups on topics of mutual interest. Lastly, as a marking professional, I also appreciate social media as an inexpensive advertising medium that lets you target specific audiences with ease.

However, what I HATE about social media is the way it turns seemingly rational human beings into abusive bullies and allows horrible people to connect with like-minded dirtbags who validate each other’s twisted views. And, when you add in Russian trolls and others who are actively and intentionally stirring up trouble in our country to divide the populace…well, let’s just say that checking one’s newsfeed becomes an exercise in blood pressure management.


If you click on the Haha emoji in response to anything but an obvious joke, chances are, you’re a Troll.

Tips by Stormy

Thankfully I have naturally low blood pressure, but the anger and vitriol spewed forth on Facebook have caused me to abandon my account several times in the past. I find it very difficult to not confront those spreading misinformation or abusive, racist statements, so I often find myself in a protracted online debate with someone whose mind I know will never be open to reason or facts. Yet despite this, I feel compelled to try. (Nevertheless, she persisted!) I feel that to leave these statements unchallenged is to appear to agree with them—the last thing I want.

These online conversations usually end with the other party giving me the “Haha” emoji (which I’ve concluded is the universal response for ignorant trolls who can’t think of any other way to counter a sensible argument). Invariably, these exchanges always leave me feeling drained, discouraged and, frankly, hopeless about the state of our country. At times it seems like the bad people far outnumber the decent people, which is a very depressing thought indeed.

And of course, that’s the point.

It was during one of these threads—about whether to mandate masks in our state—when a commenter posed a seemingly innocent question, “Who decides which comments are ‘most relevant’?” I believe they were noticing the default Facebook setting that displays relevant comments and implying that relevancy was determined by the “liberal elites” who manage our governor’s Facebook page. So, I ignored the implication and replied literally: “The Facebook algorithms.” This was followed by another baiting question, “But who designs those?” So I went into a high-level explanation of how the algorithms work. Now granted, algorithms are more complex than the explanation that follows, but I think it’s important for all Facebook users to understand the basics:

They’re in it for the money, honey…

Facebook is not free to use because Mark Zuckerberg is a philanthropist. The company makes money by selling ads to marketers (like me) to get them in front of potential customers (users like you). The beauty of the platform is it lets marketers target certain personality profiles and keywords based on information provided by the users—the groups you belong to, the pages you follow, the businesses or locations you “check-in” to, hashtags you use, things you post about, the comments you make on others posts, etc. The more specific the targeting, the more effective it is (and the more valuable it is for the advertiser).

If this strikes you as an invasion of privacy, you really shouldn’t be on Facebook. It exists to monetize your personal information. I know that and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t post truly private info, and if I’m going to be bombarded with ads online anyway, I would rather they be relevant.

Wallflowers need not apply

In order for Facebook to understand who you are, it needs you to engage. In other words, if you log on to Facebook and scroll through your feed, but never join a group, never like or comment, etc., Facebook has no real way to know who you are and subsequently can’t market effectively to you. (In other words, it won’t know what kind of ads to show you.) It’s the social equivalent of standing in the corner at a party.

Some people—KitKat for one—take this wallflower approach (ironically, in real life she is the first one on the dance floor). Because KitKat is also a marketer, she needs to understand Facebook, but she’s chosen to only observe on Facebook and never engages personally. Consequently, KitKat doesn’t stress out over social media the way I do. 😉

How to be relevant

Facebook wants and needs you to be an active participant in order to create the targeting data it needs to feed the algorithms. One way it does this is by trying to serve up the most interesting information, so you keep coming back for more. This is where the “Relevant Comments” come in. Although my troll friend wouldn’t believe it, there is no Democrat sitting in a Facebook cube that is marking every left-leaning comment as “relevant.” However, each time someone “likes” a comment, replies to a comment or tags the poster of a comment, it increases the relevance of that particular comment.

As I mentioned in the intro, I knew all of this already. But when I was explaining it to the online troll the understanding suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks: I had been making the problem worse!

Each time I replied to a negative comment or misinformation, I actually increased the relevance of that comment. In other words, I was directly contributing to the process that prompts the Facebook algorithms to deem a comment “relevant.” As a result, I was causing it to be shown to more people via their newsfeeds—which is the exact opposite of what I wanted to be doing.

If you’re an 80s kid, you might understand this analogy: “Feeding the trolls” is like feeding your Gremlins after midnight. It causes all hell to break loose.

But as the lightbulb went off in my brain, an even brighter realization occurred: I was overestimating the number of bad guys! There were far more “good guys,” but the nature of our collective interactions were giving the bad guys more visibility than they deserve! So, the question then became: Should I be addressing trolls at all? And if so, how? It turns out there’s an easy way to work around the relevancy algorithms and still fight for truth and democracy…

Slaying Medusa

Never directly comment on a negative post. (I would make an exception for dangerous misinformation, but then only comment to discredit it—by linking to accurate information—not to start a debate.) If you see a negative comment on an otherwise positive or neutral thread (particularly if it’s a news source), don’t click on the angry face, sad face or the aforementioned “Haha” emoji. Also important: Don’t tag the person who made the negative comment so you are replying directly to them. All that will do is increase their comment’s relevance. Instead, click like/love on as many of the positive comments you can to increase their relevance and thereby drown out the negative voices.

Here’s a simple example:

Misinformation Marvin: Masks don’t prevent COVID-19. They increase transmission by 50%! Health experts agree!

Concerned Carly (clicks angry face on Marvin and tags him in reply): Misinformation Marvin, They actually DO help reduce the spread…Do you have a source for that statistic?

Having participated in conversations similar to the above, I can tell you that chances are Marvin’s next comment will cite a blog post by some obscure ex-professor who was fired from his teaching job for being a rabble rouser. Then, Carly will try to point out that it isn’t a credible source, and the exchange will go downhill from there until Marvin ultimately resorts to clicking on the “Haha” emoji.

A better approach…

Misinformation Marvin: Masks don’t prevent COVID-19. They increase transmission by 50%! Health experts agree!

Concerned Carly (does not click on Marvin’s comment or reply, but posts a new comment): I see that some people on here (like Marvin) are spreading misinformation; however, here’s a legitimate source that explains how masks actually DO help reduce the spread…[Links to reputable source]

As mentioned earlier, in addition to not commenting directly to Marvin, Carly should also click on every comment that supports her argument and/or cites credible sources. This will raise the relevance of those comments which, in turn, will increase the likelihood that they will show up in others’ feeds.

I call this approach “slaying Medusa” because the essence of it is to attack from the sidelines and not look directly into the eyes of the troll. It may be true that “eyes are the window to the soul.” But in the case of the typical troll, that soul is a black void—and you don’t want to view it directly, lest it turn your heart to stone. Commenting indirectly to trolls and reinforcing the positive posts directly is a simple way you can keep the focus of the conversation on fact-driven, compassionate, democracy-loving people and take the microphone away from those who are trying to damage our country and sew divisiveness.

By elevating the positive conversations and shining a light on true, factual information, we can inspire those who are on the fence about the next election to do the right thing for America. There are three critical months left before November 3rd. Let’s do everything we can to control the trollsand particularly to get the “Troll in Chief”out of office!

 


Lions and soldiers and refugees, Oh my!

This past week, my sister made the type of comparison that is becoming all too common, particularly on Facebook. She had posted an article about the crisis in Europe related to the overflow of Syrian refugees. A photo of a small child who drowned while his family was trying to flee to Greece had touched her heart and she was asking her FB friends where the outrage was for this situation—comparing it to a month earlier when a Minnesota dentist’s slaying of a beloved lion had sparked outrage in the FB community that went on for days and days.

I'm just as saddened by the death of what's-his-name with the cool spots.

I’m just as saddened by the death of what’s-his-name with the cool spots.

If you don’t live under a rock, you probably heard about Cecil the Lion. And if you live in Minnesota, like us, you literally couldn’t escape the story because it featured a local villain. My sister had gone to Dr. Palmer for dental work. My coworker lives in the same neighborhood and gave first-hand witness of how the vilified dentist was being stalked by the media around the clock. His crime was illegal trophy-hunting and when the story broke, it appeared that most Americans didn’t realize trophy hunting was a pretty common occurrence among a segment of hunters with the means to pursue it. I was a little perplexed at the sudden outrage myself. I don’t approve of trophy hunting, but it’s been going on for years. Was the game changer the fact that he killed a lion with a name? Why didn’t anyone protest over the 40+ animals (lion, rhino, polar bear, etc.), that he had shot earlier? Or how about the other rich “sportsmen” doing the exact same thing, legally, every day?

However, while I agree that my sister’s point was valid (i.e., that many Americans’ values are out of whack), she made a grave error in how she posed her concern. By drawing a comparison between the toddler’s death and the lion’s death, she actually diverted focus from the refugee situation—because commenters immediately started defending their outrage about Cecil the Lion.

The situation was a classic example of a scarcity mentality that seems to be taking root on Facebook. That is, living as though there is a scarcity of outrage, a scarcity of common sense, a scarcity of compassion. In other words, assuming you can have compassion for a lion OR for Syrian refugees, but not both. Applying a “This OR That” logic.

In this, she’s not alone, and there’s nowhere it’s more apparent than on Facebook. A few recent examples:

When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the White House displayed some colored lights to celebrate the ruling. Immediately the posts criticizing the action started popping up: “Why didn’t the White House shine special lights on Veteran’s Day to acknowledge the sacrifice of our troops?!” Hey, that’s a nice idea, too. Let’s do that. But you don’t need to take away something nice for gay rights in order to do something nice for our military. You can do both!

Granted, not your typical American hero...

Granted, not your typical American hero…

Another example, Bruce Jenner’s transformation to Caitlyn Jenner and some articles that lauded her gender transformation as “brave”… The scarcity crowd immediately started posting photos of combat veterans and countering, “Caitlyn Jenner isn’t brave, these guys are brave!” Well, can’t they BOTH be brave? A different kind of braveness, to be sure, but really, can’t they both be considered brave for their respective actions? Why do we have to belittle one to applaud the other?

And don’t get me started on the whole Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter/Cop Lives Matter issue. Of course they matter! They all do! But trying to raise awareness about serious issues facing the black community does not mean that those raising the issue are against cops* or dismiss the value of “other lives”… Those aren’t mutually exclusive positions and as Americans, we don’t have to subscribe to the notion of limiting “whose lives matter.” Or rationing how much outrage we can apply to an injustice. Or meting out the level of support we’re willing to give someone going through difficult times. It’s time that we stop these divisive arguments that diminish us as a society and embrace an abundance mentality.

Yes, it’s awful that Cecil was slaughtered AND yes, we should try and provide aid for refugees in Europe. Yes, it’s great that gay people can finally marry AND let’s give a little more recognition to the soldiers protecting our freedom. Yes, Caitlyn Jenner did a brave thing in acknowledging her inner struggle AND yes, let’s make sure our combat veterans have all the support and medical care they need when they return home. Let’s say yes to ensuring black people are treated fairly in the justice system AND yes to ensuring the safety of the cops who are doing their best to make that happen AND yes to protecting you and your loved ones as well.

Ultimately, all a scarcity mentality will get us is a shortage of everything we need as a society, because scarcity tends to feed upon itself until it eats away at everything good. Our ultimate redemption will only come in our ability to embrace an abundance mentality that says, YES. We have enough compassion for all—both This AND That!

abundance

*I acknowledge that there will always be some wingnuts who genuinely mean harm. My stance on that is to monitor them closely, but don’t fan the flames of their obsession.

Reflections of an “innie” in an “outie” world…

I just got done with an 11-hour strategic brainstorming session with a client and my brain is mush. Now, let me explain that I’ve met all of the attendees before, this is a client I like, and the ideas we were discussing were interesting to me. Nevertheless, I’m completely exhausted.

Why? I’m an introvert. And trying to be “on” all day has resulted in the depletion of my energy. Worse, I had something on my mind that was troubling me—nothing to do with anyone in the room—but for someone who wears her emotions on her face, it required overcompensation to not look as though I was bothered by any of the topics we were discussing.

introvert-not-shyThis introversion comes as a surprise to a lot of people, because I’m not necessarily lacking in self-confidence and people don’t think of me as “shy.” For example, I once gave a sermon at church—something I know many people would be terrified to do—and was fine with getting up in front of a bunch of friends and strangers and expounding on the topic of faith. Yet, this sermon was delivered by the very same person who religiously avoids going to parties if I don’t think I’ll know anyone but the host.

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I wanted to be invited to my friend’s slumber parties, but I didn’t really want to actually go to them. I remember one time when I was trying to leave a friend’s house after an afternoon of playing together. She wanted to continue our games, but I was completely drained by all of the togetherness. I needed to go home and read a book or something and literally begged her (an extravert, clearly) to let me leave.

Because of this tendency toward introversion, people who don’t know me tend to think I’m aloof and unfriendly. That’s not true, however. I just detest small talk and polite conversation for the sake of filling the silence. Cocktail parties find me either talking to a small group of people I know or staring at my phone pretending I just got an important text or email to which I must respond.

On the other hand, once I know you and trust you, you’ll have trouble shutting me up. Heck, if I’m comfortable and in a sociable mood, I can be downright chatty. (My dad lovingly called me “Motormouth” as a teen—a name that I’ve used to describe my daughter Lucky once or twice.) However, even in these discussions I disdain small talk and usually prefer talking about Things That Matter over sports and weather.

In fact, those who know me well can attest to the fact that I rarely hold back my opinion and enjoy engaging in a lively debate. This can make people uncomfortable—particularly when you come from the land of Minnesota Nice. However, there’s usually no hostility involved. I just appreciate a well-articulated argument. In most people, these traits add up to an outgoing nature, so many of the people who  have observed me in these situations are surprised to learn that being in groups for too long can suck the life out of me if I don’t get a chance to recharge.

As a working parent of young children, I’d try to step  outside of my comfort zone and chaperone a field trip once or twice a year. (Here’s a tip for the rookies: Choose a play over the zoo, it’s much easier to chaperone kids when they’re sitting still.) But as much as I enjoyed getting a peek into my child’s school life, these outings always left me horizontal on the couch for several hours afterward, lying in the dark with a glass of wine, repeating to myself: “Must…recover….sanity…”

But part of being an introspective, introverted grown up is realizing these things about yourself, so I know when I’m being “taxed” by too much extraversion and need some alone time to recharge. My husband understands this, too. For example, there was always a predictable point on a family trip—the epitome of togetherness—where I’d declare “I need to be by myself for a while.” (In my defense, we didn’t have cable TV at home, so my kids viewed any stay in a hotel room as their chance to have a Nickelodeon marathon. By the third day of this cartoon smorgasbord, I felt like an Animaniac myself.) But my patient, indulgent husband would grant me temporary asylum and hold down the fort while I abandoned him at the Embassy Suites with three squirrelly kids watching Pinky & The Brain.

One of the most challenging places to deal with an introverted nature has been at work. Marketing and Sales teams are heavily comprised of extraverts. So, since that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, I’ve had to convince each new set of coworkers that I’m not unfriendly or stuck up, I just work more effectively on my own (with input and review at appropriate intervals, of course). Just don’t ask me to create a PowerPoint while a group of sales people sit around me throwing out ideas. These same folks can toss ideas back and forth all they want and I’ll sit and patiently listen. And, then I’ll go back to my quiet little office and try to make sense of it all. Trust me, you’ll have a writingbetter end product letting the introvert get her way. Being a manager of people has been challenging as well, since most introverts gravitate toward individual contributor roles. My marketing team may tell you I’m not the most nurturing boss, but (I hope) I make up for that by working very hard, looking out for their best interests and advocating on their behalf.
While I am probably a bit atypical as an introvert—I think most of them are “quieter” than me—I’ve noticed that Facebook gives introverts a way to recognize and acknowledge each other in a heavily extravert-oriented society. The Internet has numerous “quizzes” a person can take to determine where they fall on the introversion/extraversion scale, and it’s been interesting to learn via Facebook just how many friends and acquaintances are introverts trying to adapt to an extraverted world…like me.

Introvert4In my family, four-out-of-five of us are introverts (on the other hand, my youngest daughter, Blossom, could be the Poster Child for Extraverts), so adaptation is the name of the game. But I’m encouraged by the increased awareness around the differences of introverts and extraverts. It’s a positive step toward gaining acceptance—or at least understanding—for those of us who are otherwise too easily misunderstood.