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The decline of social media in the 2010s: A status report

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How infrastructure remade our world since 2010
Scott Fulton tells Karen Roby that people ask new and more complex questions of Siri, Alexa, and Google every day. How accurate and useful their responses are speaks to the massive fundamental changes behind the devices we use. Scott Fulton, who covered epic changes in 1990 and 2000, shines a spotlight backward on the under-appreciated platforms that made these changes possible, and the people who created them. Read more: https://zd.net/2Sg4yVJ

If the striving for social status is to be used as a major explanatory variable for social behavior then it becomes particularly important to reach clearer understanding of the nature of social status itself. We need a theory of social status explaining how the various members’ relative rank and status is determined in social groups: a theory explaining what makes social groups grant higher social status to some of their members, and what makes these members themselves seek higher social status within the group.

  -John C. Harsanyi, University of California at Berkeley
  A Bargaining Model for Social Status in Informal Groups and Formal Organizations, 1966

“We don’t have the strongest reputation on privacy right now,” admitted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at his company’s conference last April, as he was rolling out yet another new vision for Facebook’s infrastructure.

Typically, social media has been the world’s most effective system of disseminating hyperbole, so Zuckerberg’s statement on stage that day was comparably extraordinary. Facebook’s privacy incidents over the years have been so numerous and so severe, ZDNet has already established a kind of hall of fame for them. At the summit of this list is an incident that may literally have changed the world, covered in depth by ZDNet’s Charlie Osborne: the policy-breaking sharing of at least 87 million personal records of Facebook users worldwide, with the political operations group Cambridge Analytica.  As ZDNet’s Zack Whittaker reported, this firm has been linked with disinformation campaigns responsible for stirring political activism favoring the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, and favoring the Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Last February, a UK Parliament select committee laid much of the blame for this illicit connection, and the extraordinary aftermaths that have followed, at the feet of Mark Zuckerberg. As the committee’s report found [PDF]:

The scale and importance of the GSR/Cambridge Analytica breach was such that its occurrence should have been referred to Mark Zuckerberg as its CEO immediately. The fact that it was not is evidence that Facebook did not treat the breach with the seriousness it merited. It was a profound failure of governance within Facebook that its CEO did not know what was going on, the company now maintains, until the issue became public to us all in 2018. The incident displays the fundamental weakness of Facebook in managing its responsibilities to the people whose data is used for its own commercial interests.

Facebook, according to recent statistics compiled by Web analytics firm StatCounter, remains responsible for generating about two-thirds of the world’s social media-related web activity. Its millions of users (many of them real), find themselves in a situation that would have astounded Ray Bradbury. The powers that would resuscitate the Soviet Empire were found by intelligence services to have conducted a disinformation scheme targeting the Western world, especially the United Kingdom and United States. The scheme’s primary tools were Facebook, Instagram (part of Facebook), Twitter, Google Plus (now defunct), and YouTube (part of Google).

The apparent aims of these powers, directed by Russia, did indeed come to fruition, and spectacularly so. Citizens of the UK voted in favor of their country exiting the European Union. A reality show host with no public service experience was elected President of the United States. And a comedian who had the good fortune of portraying on television the President of Ukraine — an adjacent country whose territory these powers would like to see annexed — was elected President of Ukraine. There is no evidence that disinformation campaigns were directly responsible for any of these events — that agitation by social media changed people’s votes, or that these trends are directly correlated. But that has always been the case with disinformation: It masks its own evidence trail.

All this may explain the serenity and self-confidence, if indeed his emotions can be read so clearly, with which Mark Zuckerberg wrote off this incident, along with all the other in the growing mountain, as a glitch.

Reward center

mark-zuckerberg-facebook-f8-2019.jpg

“As our world has expanded,” Zuckerberg told his conference audience at one point, “we face a new challenge: We all need to find our place in this much bigger world, and it can be hard to find and feel like you have a unique sense of purpose when you’re connected to billions of people at the same time. Privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves. It’s easier to feel like you belong when you’re part of smaller communities, and amongst your closest friends.

“So it’s no surprise,” the CEO continued, “that the fastest ways that we’re all communicating online are private messaging, in small groups, and in stories. As the world gets bigger and more connected, we need that sense of intimacy more than ever.”

Anyone who’s written or outlined public speeches for a living can detect when a paragraph or a passage has been specially constructed to move the listener’s attention past a glaring mistake. Zuckerberg’s is the kind of language defense attorneys use to plea with juries. It wraps us in the warm blanket of an altruistic society, and casts his platform as the source of that warmth. It invites us to make judgment calls that relocate the focus of our deliberations to how we feel, and whether we’re happy.

Happiness is a chemical reaction. The neurochemical considered primarily responsible for the feeling of pleasure, is dopamine. Human beings often choose behavioral patterns that streamline, or even hard-wire, the reception of dopamine. Addiction is often the result of hard-wiring the brain’s dopamine-consuming reward centers in such a way that the behaviors triggering these rewards seem unavoidable.

Dopamine enters our story of the decline of social media at this point for a non-coincidental reason: Facebook’s entire premise, some researchers and psychologists believe, is as a system geared to trigger the reward centers of its users’ brains, as a means of continuing and ensuring their usage patterns.

Anxiety attack

The notion that social media can become the object of an addiction is by no means new, especially to this publication. Almost nine years ago, ZDNet contributor Zack Whittaker shared his personal story of the similarities he noticed in his life, between when he gave up Facebook for a week and when he gave up smoking. Later, Zack shared his observations about the conditions one should recognize, both in one’s life and mindset, that should serve as signals of being addicted to using social media platforms.

As ZDNet reported, researchers developed a quantitative means of rating one’s interactivity levels with Facebook, to determine whether one officially crossed the threshold into obsession. Quickly, someone designated an appropriate acronym for the catalyst of this obsession: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). In 2013, the Oxford Dictionary officially adopted the term as a legitimate word. ZDNet’s Eileen Brown reported on a survey claimed to present evidence that everyone suffers from FOMO to one degree or another. Which turned out to be a good thing, as marketers discovered clients could leverage FOMO to their advantage in attracting and retaining customers.

As with any substance that loses its rewarding effects over time, marketers should be warned that leveraging FOMO as a customer attraction tool, has its limits. As Harvard Medical School summarizes it, “Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.”

According to the Rand Corporation, results of a 2018 survey published by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health found a correlation among people aged 14 to 24 between use of Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook and negative mental health symptoms. This correlation, argue the authors of King University’s report “The Psychology of Social Media” [PDF] is a physical one that, with the right equipment, can actually be seen:  “The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is one of the primary parts responsible for determining the rewards system in people’s bodies,” King U. explains.  “When social media users receive positive feedback (likes), their brains fire off dopamine receptors, which is facilitated in part by the VTA.”

Around the same time, a University of Pittsburgh study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior examined the social media behavior patterns of 1,730 individuals ranging in age from 19 to 32. Participants in this study used social media to varying degrees, and were clustered into categories based on their usage patterns. What concerned these researchers most was an apparent correlation between the high-usage “Wired” group’s online behavior, and their other personal traits which are already associated with anxiety and depression:

It may be that this particular pattern of SMU [social media use] is indicative of a preoccupation with, and hyper-vigilant surveillance of, one’s social media.  For example, Wired individuals may routinely engage in attention seeking behaviors, reflected in high volume SMU, such as frequent status updates and subsequent checking for “likes.” This preoccupation may lead to depression if the individual does not receive the desired feedback from his or her social media audience.  Similarly, “fear of missing out” (FOMO), characterized by the desire to stay continually connected, and “Snapstreaks,” metrics of consecutive daily “Snaps” between friends on Snapchat, may contribute to a hyper-vigilant social media surveillance.  These social media-derived behaviors may mimic and contribute to symptoms of anxiety.

A subsequent project, this time not by psychiatrists but by the business school of South Korea’s Sangji University [PDF], attempted to draw relationships between these and other, similar studies being conducted at the time. This project used statistical analysis to correlate what psychiatrists were seeing with the phenomena that social media users themselves were reporting in their survey results.

In fairness, the Sangji report ostensibly casts its own conclusions as “hypotheses.” Yet it makes some bold, stark propositions: High social media use, particularly with Facebook, may initially be driven by people’s need to belong. This need is especially intense among people prone to narcissistic personality disorder, whose dopamine centers are triggered by the needs for self-presentation and for admiration. Once the cycle of social media use begins, users who exhibit the traits of addicts also display traits of voyeurism, observing other people’s lives as a substitute for the human relationships they have been unable to build for themselves.

False positive

That feeling of belonging and intimacy to which Zuckerberg referred — of not missing out, of not just being part of something but being admired for it — can be substantiated artificially in two ways. One is through the systematic, measured dispensation of status. This is the variable that was the focus of Nobel laureate economist John C. Harsanyi’s career. In Harsanyi’s time, there was no means — scientific or automatic — to quantify one’s social status among a group, or in society at large. But this is exactly the currency of internet-based social networking; the quantification of social status is precisely why Facebook was created. Social networks use status as a reward for participation; what’s more, as the Sangji University study stated, they punish lack of participation with the removal of status, which triggers feelings of exclusion and anxiety.

The second method of artificial substantiation comes by means of the ad hoc generation of common belief systems — worlds of arbitrarily assembled information that can masquerade as fact. In the absence of true interpersonal exchange, a social media environment can use belief in a common conceit as a placebo. The feeling — perhaps the illusion — of these items’ factuality and relevance may be compounded by the feeling users have of what Zuckerberg called “intimacy,” that despite their wide propagation, these items were tailored or filtered or expressly delivered just for them. These phenomena were validated not just by the psychiatric and business school studies, but by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in its report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections [PDF].

Among the research the Committee entered into evidence was an MIT investigation into Twitter’s analytics [PDF], which concluded that a false news story, or a false item masquerading as a news story, was 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than a true one, especially in circumstances where the story had a political context. It also cited a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts [PDF], which in tracked a sea of political tweets about the 2016 elections, produced by both humans and automated response systems (“bots”). In horrific graphic detail, the NBER report revealed how intensely human Twitter users responded with opposition or contrary positions (for example, argumentatively) to tweets from bots (blue lines, below) versus from other humans (grey lines).

191222-nber-time-series-graph-tp-vs-clinton-tweets.jpg

National Bureau of Economic Research

Senators looking into the now overwhelming evidence of Russia’s effort to disrupt US democracy, saw these charts. This is the actual disruption: a scientific measurement of compulsive reactions to political agitation. The need to belong, these time-series charts indicate, can be satiated by artificial entities to which no one can belong.

If anyone believes that the neo-Soviet disruptors behind this scheme were oblivious to how they leverage an internet communications system to mount an attack on the psychology of democracy itself, they need to run a Google search on Vladimir Putin.

Or perhaps that’s the wrong tack, because the relevance of whatever that search may reveal could be a random variable. The web, of which social media is a large chunk, is capable of substantiating whatever information that we believe to be, or that we wish to be, facts. If a reputable publication presents a fact or makes an assertion, its reputation does not have to be called into question for that assertion to be disputed. Someone, or something, on social media can simply deny that such reputation exists. If the validity, or even the authenticity, of the denier is in doubt, then someone, or something, can corroborate that doubt. Then if the corroborator is a false entity, a “sock puppet,” the entire argument becomes moot. Nothing is real, to borrow a Beatles phrase, and nothing to get hung about.

During Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony in April 2018, in the last few seconds of his allotted time, Sen. Ben Sasse (R – Neb.) tossed out what he might have supposed to be a throwaway question:  “Do social media companies hire consulting firms to help them figure out how to get more dopamine feedback loops, so that people don’t want to leave the platform?”

“No, Senator. That’s not how we talk about this,” responded Zuckerberg, with a sentence begging to be parsed, “or how we set up our product teams. We want our products to be valuable to people. And if they’re valuable, then people choose to use them.”

It may literally be that simple to the man: Value, in his mind, is whatever makes one happy.

Learn more — From the CBS Interactive Network

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Here’s How Long A Tesla Model Y Battery Will Actually Last

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Many of us have found ourselves at the side of the road waiting for someone to arrive with a gas can to fill our empty tank. Pushing your gasoline-powered engine too far when the gauge is reading “E” will do that. And like pushing your luck with these types of vehicles, you’ll find yourself in a similar situation with an all-electric model if you aren’t planning your journey with care, requiring roadside assistance or an emergency charging solution.

The Tesla Model Y is equipped with a long-range battery that will last you a full day on the road in the vast majority of situations. If you are driving the Performance Model Y, this vehicle will carry you an average of 303 miles on a full charge, according to Tesla. Should you be considering the Long-Range Model Y, you can expect the battery to last longer, getting 330 miles on the same charge. 

By charging the EV overnight when you are finished, you’ll have a fully charged battery to begin your day, assuming you have a home charger. And if you are running low on juice, you’ll find over 35,000 Tesla Supercharging Stations around the world, around 1,400 of which are in the United States, according to the latest data from Scrape Hero. Plug your Model Y into one of these spots and Tesla says on its website that you can expect to get around 200 miles of range after 15 minutes of charging.

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The Most Luxurious Features Of Leonardo DiCaprio’s $1.5 Million Motorhome

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The features inside DiCaprio’s trailer are over-the-top, to say the least. It is 53-feet-long with four slide-out sections that can extend from 400 to 700 square feet at the touch of a button (via The Sun). According to Rovsek, it is the largest and most luxurious motorhome in the entire fleet.

It comes equipped with two fireplaces (in case one was not enough), and state-of-the-art technology including seven TV screens throughout the entire trailer. The motor home features mirror-covered ceilings and heated marble floors in the bathrooms, living room, and kitchen. It also features a wine bar and heated marble floors, according to Bloomberg Quicktake.

Surprisingly, the crown jewel in this upscale trailer is not the lounge area or the master bedroom. Instead, it is a custom-designed £40,000 walk-in shower. The shower was reportedly made with recycled glass and took craftsmen two weeks to install (via The Sun). 

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Here’s The Easiest Way To Scan Your Android Phone For Viruses

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There’s a common misconception about smartphones, and it’s a dangerous one: many people believe they don’t need to worry about viruses, spyware, and malware when they’re using a phone. If only that were true! Unfortunately, there are tons of smartphone viruses out there, and it’s more important than ever to try to protect yourself. After all, it’s not uncommon for our phones to hold access to some of our most private data, including passwords, messages, and even bank accounts. If you want to stay safe, it’s a good idea to scan your phone with an antivirus app.

You might often hear about various computer hacks and exploits, but when it comes to smartphones, things are usually pretty quiet — but that’s not due to a lack of malicious software. According to AVTest, the number of Android malware is steadily growing. In 2021, the company registered 3.28 million instances of Android-specific malware, and there might very well be many more in reality. Even if you’re normally careful, it’s important to go the extra mile if you want to secure your phone alongside some of your most important data.

Remember that even phones that come with various protective measures from the get-go, such as the Samsung Galaxy handsets, can become compromised. If you already have an antivirus app on your phone, make sure to use it regularly. However, if you don’t or you do but you’re looking to switch to something else, read on to see some of the options available.

Popular antivirus apps for Android

Much like there are plenty of viruses that affect Android phones, there are also lots of antivirus apps that might seem great at first glance. However, upon closer inspection, some of them are riddled with ads and don’t actually do much to help you stay protected. When you search for the right app to suit your needs, some of them will be free and some will require an upfront payment or a monthly subscription. Here are some of the most popular options (based on download numbers and ratings) for you to explore.

  • BitDefender for Android: You can use the free version of this app that will passively protect your phone as well as allow scanning for viruses, but you can also pay to use the full-fledged version that expands the security and adds VPN access.
  • Avast One Essential: Avast is a well-known antivirus company in the PC space, but it also has a popular Android app. You can use the app for free to receive virus protection and a small amount of VPN bandwidth, but there’s a premium option too — and, unfortunately, the app will constantly remind you of that fact.
  • Norton 360: This is yet another PC giant that made its way to Android. Norton doesn’t offer a free version of its app, but if you’re willing to pay for it, you will get a number of features, including an ad blocker and a Wi-Fi analysis tool. The app costs $14.99 per year for the first year and then goes up to $30 per year.
  • Kaspersky for Android: This is a solid antivirus option even if you use the free version, but unfortunately, you only get real-time protection if you pay $15 per year for the premium version.

Pick the app that best suits your needs, download it from the Google Play Store, and install it onto your Android smartphone or tablet.

How to use antivirus software on Android

Each of the apps mentioned above should provide you with enough protection to not have to worry about Android viruses too much. Whether you chose a paid or a free version, you will have access to a tool that will scan your phone for malicious software. You should do this periodically. Doing so every couple of weeks is a safe approach, especially if you use your phone often. Make it a habit to always run a scan if you accidentally find yourself clicking a link that doesn’t seem all too trustworthy, too. We’ll now give you a quick rundown of what to do with your new antivirus app.

  1. Pick your app and install it through the Google Play Store. 
  2. You will most likely have to register an account to use the app.
  3. If you are picking a paid option, pay for your chosen service.
  4. Each of the apps will offer to scan your phone as the first step after set-up. This will check all of the apps on your phone and your storage for viruses.
  5. Once the scan is concluded, you can review the results. If any viruses were found, you’ll be told where they were. Remove all of them through the app.
  6. Go into the app settings and look for options to set up regular scanning. Depending on the app, you may also be offered real-time protection, which will run in the background as you use your phone.

Make sure to repeat these scans every so often. After you’ve had the chance to familiarize yourself with the free version of the antivirus product, you might want to consider upgrading. In the case of BitDefender and Avast, it’s most likely going to be worth it — especially if you want to regularly use a VPN and don’t already subscribe to one.

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