Tag Archives: social media

In defense of Twitter’s role as a social media watchdog

Mike Rosenwald is concerned that overzealous critics will make Twitter boring.

twitter is ruining

Rosenwald, who has distinguished himself in articles and excellent enterprise reporting at the Washington Post, appears to have strayed into a well-trodden cul de sac of social media criticism.

Writing in the Post, he quotes from series of sources and highlights a couple of Twitter users to arrive at a grand thesis: online mobs taking tweets out of context could chill speech. Rosenwald’s point was amplified by Politico chief economic correspondent Ben White, whose tweet is embedded below:

When I went to grab the embed code for the tweet above, however, I found something curious: I couldn’t generate it. Why? After I strongly but politely challenged White’s point twice on Twitter, he’d blocked me.

Here’s what I said: I am disappointed that the democratization of publishing and speech continues to be resented by the press. Celebrities, media and politicians will be criticized online by the public for inaccuracy and bias. It’s not 1950 anymore. And for that, a journalist blocked me.

Irony aside, I wish White hadn’t taken the nuclear option. I’m no absolutist: when George Packer slammed Twitter 3 years ago, I suggested that he take another look at what was happening there:

Twitter, like so many other things, is what you make of it. Some might go to a cocktail party and talk about fashion, who kissed whom, where the next hot bar is or any number of other superficial topics. Others might hone in on politics, news, technology, media, art, philosophy or any of the other subjects that the New Yorker covers. If you search and listen, it’s not hard to find others sharing news and opinion that’s relevant to your own interests.

Using intelligent filters for information, it’s quite easy to subscribe and digest them at leisure. And it’s as easy as unfollowing someone to winnow out “babble” or a steady stream of mundanity. The impression that one is forced to listen to pabulum, as if obligated to sit through a dreary dinner party or interminable plane ride next to a boring boor, is far from the reality of the actual experience of Twitter or elsewhere.

Packer clearly read my post but didn’t link or reply to it.

Given his public persona, I suspect Rosenwald will be much more open to criticism than Packer or White have proven to be, although I see he hasn’t waded into the vitriolic comments on his story at the Washington Post, which slam Twitter or the article — or both. Here’s what I’ve seen other journalists and Twitter users tweet about the piece:

For my part, I tend to lean towards more speech, not less. Twitter has given millions of people a voice around the world, including the capacity to scrutinize the tweets of members of the media for inaccuracy, bias or ignorance.

That’s not to say that a networked public can’t turn to an online mob and engage in online vigilantism, but the causality that Politico chief White House correspondent Mike Allen trumpeted regarding Twitter use in yesterday’s Playbook was painful to read on Saturday morning.

Twitter makes people online vigilantes? Come on. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and other social media platforms have taken nearly all of the friction out of commenting on public affairs but it’s up to people to decide what to do with them.

As we’ve seen during natural disasters and revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa, including protests in Turkey this weekend, an increasingly networked public is now acting as reporters and sensors wherever and whenever they are connected, creating an ad hoc system of accountability for governments and filling the gaps where mainstream media outlets are censored or fear to tread.

That emergence still strikes me as positive, on balance, and while I acknowledge the point that White and the sources that Rosenwald quotes make about the potential for self-censorship, I vastly prefer the communications systems of today to the one-to-many broadcasts from last century. If you feel differently, comments — and Twitter — are open.

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Yahoo buys Tumblr. Keep calm and reblog on?

Yahoo buys Tumblr. Keep calm and reblog on?

Yahoo’s board has approved a $1.1 billion all-cash deal to buy Tumblr, a New York City-based technology company.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tweeted that this is the first acquisition announced by an animated GIF and promised “not to screw it up,” keeping the team in place and offering support and integration, not re-invention. Yahoo famously acquired delicious, Flickr and Upworthy, amongst other hot online properties, only to let them moulder. Many users still haven’t forgiven Yahoo for its 2009 decision to close Geocities, an popular online community from the 1990s, without archiving it.

Tumblr CEO David Karp tumbled the news and sought to allay user concerns: “We’re not turning purple,” he wrote. “Our headquarters isn’t moving. Our team isn’t changing. Our roadmap isn’t changing. And our mission – to empower creators to make their best work and get it in front of the audience they deserve – certainly isn’t changing.”

$1.1 billion dollars is a lot of money for a (re)blogging network with tens of millions of users but scant revenue but it buys Yahoo a foothold in mobile social networking and, at least for the moment, many more young users — as long as the community doesn’t flee.

That’s likely one reason that both CEOs took such lengths to be reassuring this morning. Mayer joined Tumblr and has been posting cheeky animated GIFs that allude to seamier side of the social blogging service.

In the months ahead, Tumblr users will see more ads — “native ads” and dashboard ads from Yahoo’s ad network and perhaps in-line ads on the mobile app — much as Facebook users do. That’s no surprise, although finding the right mix of relevancy, frequency and intrusiveness for mobile advertising will be a delicate dance.
Mayer says that the two companies will work together to create “advertising opportunities that are seamless and enhance user experience.”

It will be interested to see if that means more sponsored posts and advertorial from “brand journalists” and corporate media writing for business tumblrs. John Battelle’s looks at on displays, streams and native advertising concludes that this move gives Yahoo “an asset that its branded display sales force can sell as sexy: native, content-driven advertising at scale.”

In an attention economy, ads need to be independently entertaining on their own to avoid the click away or being tuned out by the glazed, jaded eyes of young people exposed to an unprecedented bath of media before adulthood.

That’s a dynamic that WordPress founder Matt Mullenwag alluded to in a comment on his post on “Yahooblr“:

In an advertising business a lot of it comes down to attention: how much and where advertisers spend to get your attention usually lags 3-5 years from where people are actually spending their time, and when that gap closes it can be very impressive. Of course it doesn’t happen for free, there are lots of organizational changes needed to execute on that opportunity, and probably as many people screw it up as get it right.

I believe there is also an even-larger-than-advertising opportunity around subscriptions and products. The big shift from older forms of media is that people aren’t just passively consuming as they might in front of a TV, they’re creating. It’s a hobby and a passion, not a vice. In that context I think subscriptions are more aligned with users than advertising, and that’s the direction Automattic is pointed in.

The big question most technology pundits and business analysts will be asking today is whether this makes sense for Yahoo and puts them on a stronger course. The initial market reaction put Yahoo stock up nearly 1% at 11 AM.

On a personal note, I expect to keep tumbling, though I find WordPress to be a superior blogging platform. That said, my attention is spread across many different social platforms and media organizations, not to mention my inbox and iPhone.

If I’m confronted by too many ads on the Tumblr mobile app, I’m going to spend less time consuming and creating there. I’m sure I’m not alone.

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May 20, 2013 · 11:00 am

Can journalists change their social media avatars to political symbols?

Nisha Chittal asked a number of journalists (including me) about where they stand for on using same-sex marriage symbols on their social media profiles.

Here’s what she found: “The answer is a multi-layered one: it depends on the journalist, the outlet they work for, the social media platform, and whether the journalist is covering this week’s Supreme Court hearings.”

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I was honored to see that Nisha gave me the “kicker quote” at the end. If you’d like to weigh in on your stance on this ethical issue, comment away.

Here’s the statement I submitted to her inquiry:

In general, the consensus answer amongst the journalists I respect is that changing your avatar to a symbol like this is not OK, based upon the ethics policies of places like the AP, WSJ, NYT, PBS or NPR.

I think the capacity to demonstrate support for one side of a contentious social issue like this varies, depending upon the masthead a journalist is working under, the ethics policy of that masthead, the role of the journalist and the coverage area of the journalist. Staking out positions on a reporter’s beat is generally frowned upon.

Opinion journalists who regularly take positions on the issues of the day as columnists have often already made it clear where they stand on a policy or law. Advocacy journalism has an established place in the marketplace for ideas. Readers know where a writer stands and are left to judge the strength of an argument and the evidence presented to back it.

If a reporter takes on overt, implicit position on an issue that she is reporting on, however, will it be possible to interview sources who oppose it?

On the other hand, there are a number of social issues that may have had “sides” in past public discourse but have now become viewpoints that few journalists would find tenable to support today.

How many journalists were able to remain neutral or objective in their coverage of slavery in the 1860s? Womens’ suffrage in the early 20th century? Civil rights in the 1960s? Child slavery, sex trafficking, so-called “honor rape” or the impression of child soldiers in the present?

Interracial marriage was illegal in some states in the Union, not so many years ago. That is not the case any longer. It seems to me that gay marriage is on the same trajectory. The arc of the moral universe is long indeed, but I tend to agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on its trajectory: it bends towards justice.

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Filed under journalism, social media, technology, Twitter

Trumping Trump on Twitter

This is the most retweeted tweet I’ve ever tweeted:

It blew up so much it attracted Donald Trump’s notice. He responded:

I dream of the day that I get nearly 1,700+ retweets of a story instead of a sentiment. Apparently I touched a nerve. It just kept going and going and going.

By the numbers, my tweet was amplified five times as much as Trump’s, with a bit less than 10% of the followers. On particular count, I may have “trumped” the real estate mogul on Twitter, although I think it’s safe to say that this is an imperfect gauge of public opinion. He also shows no signs of shifting his course.

On a more qualitative level, Trump’s @mention of me exposed me to a day’s worth of emotional feedback online. I received many negative @replies on Twitter when the @WhiteHouse retweeted me last July. The angry responses after Donald Trump @mentioned me this week, however, were worse in scale and composition.

As I gain more surface area online and in the media, through television appearances, I’m finding that I’m encountering more hate, fear, ignorance and anger everywhere. Honestly, I have a hard time not responding to people online. I’ve never liked seeing broadcast journalists and celebrities ignore people, even angry viewers or fans. It’s not how I’ve worked over the last decade and I don’t intend to change.

As I gain more of a platform to focus attention on issues that matter, this won’t get easier. The Internet mirrors what is worst in humanity, along with what’s best in us. The Web is what we make of it. It’s a bitter reality, though I think it’s been part of the public sphere as long as we’ve had one.

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Revisiting standards for moderation and community on social networks

If the Internet and social media represent the new public square, it’s important to talk about the rules of the road.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot of spam and pornography links on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and on comment sections of the blogs I maintain.

Google and Facebook both give us the ability to moderate comments and, if we wish, to block other people who do not respect the opinions or character of others.

Now that a lot more people are circling me on Google+, following me on Twitter and subscribing to me on Facebook, it’s time to revisit a post from earlier this years. If you have found your comment removed, I’d like to explain why and offer some guidelines. Here’s how I think about maintaining community, with a nod to ASU journalism professor Dan Gillmor‘s example:

I can and do block spammers and people posting links to pornography in my comment threads.

I generally leave comments on my blogs, precisely because I value conversations, despite the issues that persist online. I have been moderating discussion in online forums and blogs for many years, including those of my publishers. My full thoughts on the value of blog comments — and the social norms that I expect people comments to live within — are here.

Vilely insulting me won’t help your case. Insulting others will ruin it. I was a teacher in my twenties. I would not tolerate disrespectful behavior in my classroom, either to me or to other students. If you can’t be civil and continue to insult others, much less the person hosting the forum, you were asked to leave and see the principal.

If the behavior persists, you will lose the privilege of participating in the class at all. Eventually, you get expelled. On Google+ or blogs, that takes the form of being defriended, banned or blocked from my public updates. I prefer not to block users but I will do so. I respect your right to speak freely on your own blog, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ account, whether that involves cursing or ignorance.

I strongly believe in the First Amendment, with respect to government not censoring citizens. That said, I do not, however, feel obligated to host such speech on my own blog, particularly if it is directed towards other commenters. I believe that building and maintaining healthy communities, online of offline, requires that the people hosting them enforce standards for participation that encourage civil dialogue.

I hope that makes sense to readers. If not, you are welcome to let me know why in the comments. And if your approach differs, please explain how and why.

Following is a storify from a forum I participated in that featured perspectives from other people entrusted with online community moderation:

[View the story "A story of online community, comments and moderation" on Storify]

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A few thoughts on the use of Twitter by federal officials

“Yes, saw news @acarvin retweeted from Tunisia. On it. Please @reply from @StateDept. – Hillz”

Last month, Federal Computer Week reporter Alice Lipowicz interviewed me about how federal officials and Congressmen in the United States government were using Twitter. She ended up using just one quote in her article on Feds using Twitter, regarding the reality that the division between “personal” and “professional” accounts has become quite blurred in the public eye, regardless of disclaimers made.

Look no further than the Congressional staffers who were connected to tweets about drinking during the workday and subsequently fired. With millions of people on the service and the DC media listening closely, there’s simply a higher likelihood that a bad error will be noticed and spread — and corrections never travel as far as the original error. An offhand comment, even if meant to be funny, can be taken out of context.

If a government executive or editor shared pictures of cute puppies and dogs on an official Twitter feed, they do run the risk that some people may not take their professional leadership as seriously. Then again, citizens and colleagues might connect with them as a fellow ‘dog person,’ like me. I set up a Twitter account for my greyhound some time ago. (He doesn’t tweet much.)

Alice and I talked about much more than risk, though, and since I have notes from the conversation, here are a few other observations I made. (The caption above, for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is 100% fiction.)

First, we talked about Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who writes cryptic tweets but appears to be doing something some of his colleagues may not: listen. He told the National Law Journal that he pays attention to reactions to his tweets.

“Twitter’s a new way to communicate with constituents,” said Senator Grassley. “The real-time feedback and contact with the grassroots that Twitter offers is a real value.”

Even though some of his more partisan tweets have drawn controversy at times, he is a notable example of a lawmaker in the Senate demonstrating personal use of social media, including typos, text speak and messages that his staff might prefer he hadn’t sent, like his recent comments concerning the President.

In general, if Congress is going to draft legislation that leads to rulemaking about social media, it makes sense that Senators and Representatives should have some basic familiarity with these tools and what’s being said on them or down with them, given the role that they’re now playing in the new public square.

Their staffers certainly realize that by now, tethered by BlackBerrys and iPhone and Android devices to a 24/7 newscycle that has compressed to 24 minutes — or even 24 seconds — from 24 hours. The modern workplace may reward working long hours outside of the office, or at least the appearance of it. Late night and early morning emails are part of Washington working culture. It takes a specific attitude, boundaries and discipline to find a healthy work-life balance in the context of pressure.

That’s certainly true of officials as well, like federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, who is a father to several young children. He is an unapologetically geeky guy who has been learning to use Twitter better, as Alice described, to go “direct” in answered questions from the government IT media.

He and his colleague, US CTO Todd Park, are actually both more advanced in their use of Twitter at this point in their tenures than Vivek Kundra and or Aneesh Chopra, their respective predecessors, neither of whom were tweeting when they began work. (Both men continue to tweet now, after they’ve left government, with Chopra much more active.)

VanRoekel tweeted infrequently as the managing director of the FCC, although he demonstrated that he both knew the basics. Using hashtags for comedic effect in his tweets now strongly suggests he’s learned something about the culture of Twitter since then. Yes, it was a bit of inside baseball, since you’d need to understand the context of Molly’s column to understand his comment, but the tweet was a reply to a specific column.

I thought that he was trying to be funny, with respect to confirming that APIs would be part of the federal government’s digital strategy using a “#specialsauce” hashtag and “#thereIsaidit.” At least for my (admittedly) geeky sense of humor, I think he succeeded.

I still see a perception in some quarters that Twitter is a fad and a waste of time — and currently, given the political context around taxes, the federal budget and spending, conversations about government wasting anything trend pretty negatively. Even with 100% of federal agencies on the service, I find that it still takes a demonstration of how Twitter is useful to accomplishing a mission before an uninitiated person’s eyes open to its value. Searching for topics, events or the name of an employer or agency is often effective.

That’s true for every other social network or tool, too. In 2012, I’m still enjoying exploring and experimenting with what the right approach to each platform, from blogging to Twitter to having family, friends and subscribers on Facebook and Google+ to tumbling or staying LinkedIn to my professional network or sharing video on YouTube. The same is true of federal officials.

We’re all “stumbling” along together.

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In the Capital, influence on social media in DC is more than Twitter followers

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since I implored the DC tech community and media scene at large to stop holding influence contests. Deja vu, all over again.

It was brilliant of In The Capital to hire a smart journalist to cover notable events in the political and tech scene. That coverage put them on the District’s radar during Social Media Week.

It was not brilliant of them to put together this week’s smudged sterling example of linkbait, which stands to damage their credibility with new readers who are not friends of those selected.

Look: I’ve met 80% of the people on this list of the “DC’s Top 10 Social Media Influencers” and follow many of them. I have much respect for their smarts, digital savvy and professionalism.

But if this is the” top 10,” what, exactly, does being an DC “influencer in social media” mean here? Online influence is not just about having a lot of Twitter followers.

For instance, I’m ahead of @LukeRussert by more than 33,000+ and have a higher Klout score, due in part to a large following on Google+ and Facebook. Does that mean that I’m more influential? Maybe on social media and certainly with respect to technology, but certainly not on broadcast news, which still retains enormous influence in our country. It also wasn’t hard to think of another person in DC who’s more influential with respect to social media than either one of us:

What about more “influential in the startup and DC tech scene, which “In the Capital” says it covers? Are all ten of these people more influential than Peter Corbett, Frank Gruber or Jen Consalvo, the co-founders or DC Week and organizers of the huge DC Tech Meetup? I’d don’t think so. And neither does Russert:

In a larger sense, does anyone believe that Russert is more of an “influencer” on social media in Washington than President Obama, between @WhiteHouse and @BarackObama? (I certainly don’t kid myself about my “clout” relative to POTUS.) What about @SpeakerBoehner or House Majority Leader @EricCantor or @SenJohnMcCain? Is the rest of the list is more “influential” than @MarkKnoller or @MarcAmbinder or @MikeAllen? A recent study of Twitter use in Congress, in fact, found that SenatorSanders was the most “influential” member of Congress on social media. (Or at least on Twitter.) one could go deeper on the list of people in media and government but the point is clear enough.

Mark Drapeau, director of innovative engagement in Microsoft’s office of civic engagement — and a member of the list — offered a dissenting perspective:

all these lists are kinda different or the same based on peoples’ biases and what they hope to accomplish and the audience they hope to reach. The Washington Post turns it into a ridiculous game. In the Capital picked… people they think are cool. Politico made the same exact list [of top DC Twitterers] and it’s all – gasp – politicos! The LA Times made the same list [DC twitterers], and they simply ranked people by followers – lazy! I made the same list based on how people interact with their communities – lots of people I know from… my community! All the lists are right, all the lists are wrong, there is nothing to debate, complain about, or mock.

In DC social media, there’s lots of actual social data to crunch to enable some measure influence and connected, not just from PeerIndex or Klout but from Google back links or Twitter/Facebook engagement numbers. Or they could have run their own data on how much engagement or amplification people get on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, etc. That’s just not what happened today.

This feels straightforward, at least from where I sit tonight: If editors make lists, they need to be able to back them up with criteria and methodology. That’s why people read Consumer Reports, for instance, when they buy things. Lists and ratings from credible publications influence the buying and hiring decisions of consumers. That’s why there’s a market for them and why people and brands get excited about being selected.

If “In The Capital” really wanted to measure “influence” and do a Top 10 List, “In the Capital” could have cited Klout or PeerIndex, flawed as those services may yet be. Gadi-Ben Yehuda, social media strategist for IBM’s Center on the Business of Government, made this comment:

The easiest way to have voided any controversy would have been not to use the title “DC’s Top Ten Influencers in Social Media,” which is confusing in any case. Honestly, when I saw who was on the list (the majority was women), I thought “OK, this must be people who do primarily social media activities, i.e. they don’t publish substantive articles on important government events (like Alex), they don’t run tech/innovation companies (like Peter Corbett), they don’t work in the innovation office of cabinet-level agencies (like @AlecJRoss). These are people who’s skill is in the medium that others of us use as a tool to accomplish other things.”

That seemed to answer the question of what the article was about, but only if one focused on the words “in social media.” But what about this words “top” and “influencer” what do those words even mean? Klout defines influence as the ability to spur others to take action. If that’s what an influencer is, then I don’t think there can be a top ten list without Obama, or at least Macon Phillips. Again, Peter Corbett (he got more than 10K people here for DCWeek, after all). Alan Rosenblatt should also likely be on that list.

Based upon Byrne’s comments and some background gathered at last night’s DC Social Media Happy Hour, the list was originally pitched to be about 10 awesome women who consult and teach others in the DC community about how to use social media. Shireen Michell, for instance, is influential with segments of the District’s community who are not in the government or media space.

Then In The Capital appears to have dropped two of them, added Russert and Drapeau, and changed the title and premise, which was not and is not supportable based upon qualititative or quantitative grounds. When asked about the substance behind the list, the author of the post offered this response:

Lisa Byrne, a social strategist at the Pappas Group who was put on the list, offered some insight into what seems to have happened:

“I actually gave a lot of input (originally it was all female so I never spoke of any guys who should be noted),” she commented. “I was not advised it would be titled Influencers. I listed people who were community leaders in the social space – online and specifically offline.”

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