Believe Everything and Question Nothing

June 23, 2014

I’m not the first person that believes social media is responsible for the escalation of futility in our country.  Many before me have professed their contempt for bastardized communication, not-so-clever Willy Wonka memes, and hoaxes that warn readers not to flash their headlights for fear of being attacked by violent gangs waiting to prey on unsuspecting motorists.  It appears that America’s preferred communication method has digressed into pictures or messages that fit into the 140 character spectrum– and it’s a problem.

I’m not sure when I became a critical thinker, but it more than likely happened while attending college as a 45-year-old. It crept up on me like kidney stones; out of the blue I began to question everything and I expected everyone else to do the same. It’s a pretty simple concept. Throughout our entire lives we’ve been told not to believe everything we read, yet Facebook users seem to forget that simple life lesson. The practice of sharing inaccurate information is not only rooted in laziness, it’s also based on a lack of understanding what sources can be defined as credible. We should have that fixed by the end of this “not a credible source” blog post.

Below are a few tips to make yourself appear a little more intelligent to your social media peers.

Use Credible Sources- Do you want to make a solid argument in your next online political debate? Find current articles or information that clearly cites where the research originated. A credible source is simply a source that the reader or viewer can trust. Journals by well-respected authors or experts in a specific field of study are credible sources. Websites ending in .edu, .org and .gov are normally considered credible sources. Blogs, Wikipedia, memes, articles without a published author, or media outlets that attempt to persuade are not.

Drop the Memes-  It’s important to understand where memes originate in order to understand how useless they really are.  Many of the memes that are prevalent in social media are generated from sites like Reddit or 4chann and are fairly old by the time they reach Facebook. Know Your Memes explains the history of most means.

People often ask me why memes or stories that contain false information are published and shared. It’s simple. People create them for fun and then others attempt to “one-up” the originator of the meme or story in an attempt to illicit more views. It’s obvious why you shouldn’t perpetuate the negative impact that these devices carry by sharing them on social media.

Political memes are often generated by political organizations that are attempting to persuade the reader. More often than not, political memes do not contain accurate sources and in many cases leave out pertinent information.  It’s easy to determine their accuracy with a Google search.

Check the Facts– No…Michael Vick did not get bit by a stray pitbull, Facebook will not donate money for a child’s heart transplant every time you share a post and feeding your dog ice cubes will not kill him. Determining whether these stories are true and accurate is easy. Simply Google the headline followed by the word “hoax.” It works every time! There are also websites such as and dedicated to rebuking falsehoods.

These guidelines may seem hollow and unwarranted, but in the scope of effective communication, they’re extremely important. I’d imagine that some reading this will argue that social media is supposed to be fun and not so serious. I’d agree- that’s why I didn’t mention your cat pictures or photos of your vegan dinner at your favorite hipster restaurant. When one decides to cross the line and distribute information that may influence  a reader’s opinion about important subjects, then it’s the poster’s responsibility to present credible and accurate information.

The biggest problem with “sharing” memes and stories on social media is that the user is letting someone else do their thinking and speaking for them. Have we really become so time-consumed that we need to have someone else assemble our thoughts before we confess them? It’s much more stimulating and conversational when we stumble across a post that’s well thought out and in the user’s own words. Just say no to internet trash.


Head’s Up…

Meghan Peter’s blog article, “Why the Future of Social Is in the Palm of Your Hand” provides insight into the positive and endless possibilities of social media’s use through handheld devices. Although the piece felt like a promotional advertisement for Sonar, Stamped, Soundtracking and Apple, her mention of these companies was more than likely to add credibility to her article.

texting2Though smartphones provide the technology to engage in real-time updates, they’ve also prompted a detachment of personal, face-to-face relationships—at least in the Western culture. While Peters explains the benefits of checking in, posting real-time photos, and communicating with friends and family in different parts of the world, she fails to point out that many are substituting social media for physical relationships.

I have a strong understanding of social media. I was born at the perfect time to figure this thing out. I watched PC’s come into our homes, I participated in the beginnings of the internet, I watched social media being born, and I saw shoe-box sized cell phones morph into devices that are smaller than a deck of cards. The issue with handheld computers is that people have sacrificed actual human engagement for lists of friends that we wouldn’t recognize or say hello to on the street. EVERYONE has been in a situation where they’ve seen a Facebook acquaintance in public and pretended not to see them. I’ve done it and I’ve seen others do it.

Walk through a hallway in a local college and you’ll see the disconnect when students leave their classrooms. The majority of the students have their faces buried in their phones while bumping into others doing the same thing.

Cell phone technology is an amazing thing. It DOES allow people to connect in unique ways that can actually enhance relationships. But until users learn how to balance social media and up close and personal relationships, many of us will be walking around bumping into each other.

Facebook’s Watching…

Statistical analysis is an amazing thing.  The amount of information that can be gathered from a specific group can be extremely valuable to businesses, researchers and anyone looking to target specific demographics. The information that can be gathered and analyzed through social media, specifically Facebook, is staggering.
130-stats-about-the-7-social-media-trends-dominating-2015-15-638I don’t believe that the information found in Stephen Wolfram’s blog article, “Data Science of the Facebook World” should alarm people. Instead those that read the article should find intrigue in the complete segmentation of Facebook and the information that can be used in a number of positive ways. It’s amazing that each age group is so diverse and an almost predictable demographic.  Each group has a specific number of friends, likes, interests and frequently visited pages. The user experience for each demographic almost makes Facebook a unique experience for each age group. I found it interesting that the older population’s selection of friends were more varied in age than any other demographic. It’s obvious though because the over 70 age demographic more than likely have older children, grand-kids and nieces and nephews as friends. The statistical analysis used by companies like Facebook and Google will change the course of marketing like no other time in the history of marketing. Our sidebars and headers are filled with advertisements that are specific to our likes and desires. It’s incredible technology. It may be a little intrusive and sometimes creepy, but it’s the age in which we live in.

Social Media Junkie

Social media addiction…Hmmm.

Most people would instinctively believe that the amount of time spent engaging in social media use would directly affect the user’s dependency. I don’t believe that to be the case. The influence that social media has on the end-user is far greater than the amount of time logged in.

I’m two steps away from being addicted to social media. Although I have a Twitter account, I find myself engaged in Facebook and the Harmony Central forums more than any other thing on the internet. The two sites take care of different needs. Facebook allows me to engage in the interests that consume me including sports, politics and music. Harmony Central fulfills my musical needs.

The reason that social media addiction is not strictly about the time spent on its pages is ShinWa-Marketing-Social-Media-Waste-of-Time-for-Marketersbecause of its grasp on the person when they’re NOT on the site. The article that we read for this week’s assignment said it perfectly—students feel as if they are missing out on something when they’re offline. And that’s exactly how I feel. Although I read and watch the news, engage in perfectly healthy discussions in person and can live without my phone, I feel as if there’s a response to a post or a topic that needs my opinion. As I sit typing this blog post I’ve actually checked my Facebook and Harmony Central accounts twice.

The most obvious issue I see with the connected generation and the use of social media is the loss of critical thinking. People re-post and re-quote things that they don’t know to be true. People form opinions on major news stories and political topics based on what a cartoon or image portrays. It seems that the people that fact check things are very few and the people that recycle the garbage that they find on social media sites hold on to and defend the ideology that they’ve formed from these images.

The one thing that is certain is that social media is here to stay and will only become more mainstream than it already is. Hopefully users will learn to deal with the connectivity responsibly.

Nobody Cares What You Think

I’ve been tasked to critique a couple of articles that pertain to user comments and blogs. I normally prefer the assignments that allow us to write about articles that are a little less vague; but I understand the process behind the assignments. This week’s articles proved to be a very simple topic for me. As I’ve said in the past, I’m not a blogger. However, I engage in heavy amounts of social media use and often post controversial or interesting topics that sometimes generate 50-75 responses.

Obviously the more interest that a published blog generates, the more comments will be left for the author or other users.  It’s a cycle that not only establishes credibility for the blogger, but each party is dependent on the other for a successful blog.  In the article, “31 Proven Ways to Get More Comments on Your Blog,” author Seth Simonds places his number one tip as “Take a Stand”. I’d agree with this being one of the easiest ways to generate comments. Most topics have supporters and detractors. If the writer takes a stand on something that a reader feverishly opposes, the chances of getting a comment are increased. What I’ve noticed through my social media experience is that people will respond hurriedly and often say things without giving it much thought. They bang out a response out of anger often tend to write responses that are over the top. Therefore, I believe that a bit of harmless trolling in a post or blog is a great way to generate comments.

The other tip that Simonds suggests is to curse often. Simonds states that, “You can often make up for bad writing by cursing a lot and using odd flips in logic to keep readers guessing and entertained. Readers who find you disgusting will comment as will all the readers who find you terribly amusing.” I agree with the premise wholeheartedly but I have a difficult time adopting the practice. I don’t have an issue with dropping fuck or any other curse word in print, but I believe that it doesn’t have a place in a public environment that is supposed to generate intelligent discussion.

It’s apparent that a successful blog relies on an abundance of followers. The blogger needs to find methods to engage those supporters and get them to participate in the writing process with you.  Encouraging comments and responses is a great way to start.

Blogging’s Beneath Us?

Blogs. I don’t follow any bloggers, I very seldom read any blogs unless they’re political, and even then I can’t name of any professional bloggers. I’ll occasionally read something from Paul Hamilton or one of WGR 550’s bloggers, but that’s about it. I find the concept intriguing but I think it’s just because I enjoy writing. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I’m certain that once I’ve completed my education, I’ll engage in the blogging experience. I may even do so to supplement my income.

bloggingThe web publishing class had the privilege of having Tyler Johnson, a professional blogger, as a guest speaker last week. I was pretty excited to hear someone speak about blogging that makes a living out of it. Johnson’s insight to the blogging industry seemed a little deficient, but he shared insight as to how the website he works for operates. Johnson works for Pop on the Pop—it’s basically an internet rag committed to celebrity gossip. I’m assuming that Johnson’s less than motivating presentation was due to the fact he earned a degree in English and he’s writing celebrity gossip. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy his lecture- it was a a valuable 45 minutes, and most of the class, myself included, probably could have spent another hour discussing his trade. It’s just that he seemed to dismiss his occupation simply by his body language and tone.

I can’t fault Johnson or anyone else that makes a living out of doing something they enjoy though. Getting paid for something you’re good at and enjoy, is one of the few rewards that we can reap as an adult. I support myself as a professional musician; I’ve averaged nearly 175 gigs a year for quite some time. Many nights I perform for a respectable crowd that is engaging and shares a common love of music with me. Most nights I’m playing to drunks that just want to hear the same five songs that drunken people always want to hear. Sometimes the value of our talent can’t be measured by our audience but instead by the realization that we have the talent to be hired in the first place.

I have a feeling that Johnson is not thrilled with his current position as a blogger. I’m certain that if he has the drive and motivation to succeed in the industry he’ll land on his feet in a more prestigious role.

Hippy Talk

The class was assigned two reading assignments this week. Both were nearly 20 years old, and shared the perspectives of two separate authors and their views of the internet in the mid 90s. I found the article, “Introducing Humdog: Pandora’s Vox Redux”, written by an author named Humdog, to be a fairly honest and insightful “take” on the internet. The other piece was a little more ridiculous and I chose to spend the majority of this blog article contemplating John Barlow’s self-righteous essay.

John Perry BarlowJohn Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” was nothing more than a call to arms for internet geeks of the mid-nineties. Barlow’s manifesto took aim at the “Telecom Reform Act of 1996” and did so in a way that probably made early programmers and chat room enthusiasts rejoice louder than their 56k modems connecting to their BBS.

It’s not that Barlow’s intentions weren’t founded in principle— his commitment to his cause was just. It was his approach to the declaration that was trite and juvenile. The essay seemed to be a left over speech from his Height-Ashbury days with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and the magical trips with Timothy Leary.

Barlow occasionally weaved moral, intelligent comments throughout his testament only
to ruin it by stating that, “The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule.” Barlow’s declaration attempted to convince others that the internet could be managed the same way that things were handled in grade school. Barlow claimed he knew the future of cyberspace but failed to realize the extent of its value to the world a mere 5 years in his future. It was more than obvious, even in 1996, that the internet would blow up and need some type of management.

Years after his declaration Barlow realized the folly of his youth and publicly chided his writing and took up digital rights activism. Hopefully his insight into copyright infringement and DRM will lead him to a better and more informed understanding of digital media and its uses better than his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” did.