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Addicted To Your Smartphone And Social Media? It Could End Up Being Harmful

It’s not hyperbole to say smartphones, social media, and technology in general has become the center of our lives. We communicate, work, play, date, take photos, and do a million other activities, all at the click of a button. It helps to make tasks effortless and quick.

But as the rule with all good things, there comes a problem. Social media and smartphones can have very addicting tendencies that are becoming increasingly obvious. According to a 2021 Pew Research Center study, 49% of U.S. adults on Facebook — seven-in-ten users — say they visit the site several times a day, with 22% visiting at least once.

For Snapchat, 45% visit several times a day, while Instagram has 38% of users logging on frequently. The increased activity is especially prevalent throughout younger age groups, which apps like Snapchat are catered too.

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Of course, just visiting a platform doesn’t mean you’re necessarily addicted, especially if it’s only for a few seconds each. But, as Wall Street Journal family and tech columnist Julie Jargon explained, there a number of ways to tell if you’re obsessed with your phone and social media.

Jargon explained that if you find it hard to put your phone down, it could mean you’re using it compulsively, indicting addiction. Some examples of this might be a person refusing to do an action — such as going to the bathroom or walking down the street — without checking their phone.

This can certainly end poorly in a number of ways, from not looking while crossing the street or when driving, leaving both yourself and others in potential danger. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, texting while driving can reduce a driver’s attention by 37%.

Like with all habits, these compulsions can be hard to break. However, you have a weapon at your disposal: your phone’s settings, which can allow you to slowly chip away your need to be looking at the screen, even it’s its forced.

“Try logging how often you check your feeds in a day, including those brief glances during spare moments,” Jargon said, emphasizing turning off app notifications, turning on Do Not Disturb, and configuring settings that don’t allow the receiving of texts while driving. Finding other activities to put in place of the moments you use for your phone time can also help to fill the void.

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Among other signs to look out for include using social media to satisfy yourself, suffering withdrawal symptoms when not using a device, convincing yourself you have an audience you need to serve, or that social media use is getting in the way of your life and preventing you from time with family and friends.

All of those possible signs can have a draining impact on your self-esteem and relationships, while an addiction can also lead to other potential problems that can threaten mental states. Studies have found potential links between excessive phone usage and cognitive functions, emotional reactions, and medical problems that include a lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits, and physical loss.

So, what else can be done to help? Jargon suggested developing a schedule for social media and phone use, helping you to give yourself much-needed no-screen time while not cutting yourself off completely. Therapy can also be helpful for those that have developed serious conditions.

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Johnny Depp And Amber Heard Defamation Trial Continues: Social Media Blurs The Lines Between Fact And Fiction

Celebrity exes Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are currently engrossed in a multimillion dollar defamation trial. Depp has sued Heard for $50 million on defamation charges after Heard implied Depp abused her during their marriage, leading to him losing work and social standing. Heard has also counter-sued for $100 million.

Instagram Now Allowing All Users To Tag Products As Ads In Posts

Instagram is now allowing all users to tag products in the posts they upload to their feeds, enabling any photo to act as an advertisement for whatever product is tagged.

Instagram initially announced their plans to give everyone the ability to tag products in their photos last month. The feature is now currently available for all users. Originally this feature was only available for content creators who make their income by selling products through their Instagram posts.

Users can now tag products in their images as long as the business is registered and set up with Instagram Shopping. The company made a statement regarding the update to the app and their hopes for the future.

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“From supporting brands you love to helping your friends and family discover new products they may like, sharing products on Instagram just got easier.”

Full instructions on how users can tag a brand and specific product are posted on the company’s blog, but it essentially works the same way as when you would tag a person in your picture.

Like when another individual is tagged in a post, users will be able to see when an image has product tags, and can easily click the image to have the link appear. Users can then purchase the tagged product directly in the app or through the brand’s product page.

With this new feature any Instagram post can be an advertisement, something that is likely very exciting for brands, however, it’s not clear what the benefits are to the average user, who’s essentially providing free advertising through their posts. Instagram, however, believes that this is a feature many users will utilize.

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Business owners will receive a notification whenever someone tags a product of theirs in a photo and they can manage and view all tagged content on their profile. Businesses can also manage who can tag their products in their preference settings.

Instagram claims that this is just the beginning for product tagging for the average user, and they’re currently working on more ways to bring this feature to other aspects of the app as well. For the past couple of years Instagram has pivoted to become more of a platform for shopping, and the company has been transparent about the ways in which they’re trying to monetize every aspect of the app.

The company even said they no longer want to be viewed as just a photo-sharing app, unless it’s referring to their goals of expanding shopping and video features on the app.

In December, Instagram’s head Adam Mosseri said that it” is prioritizing Reels as well as shopping in 2022,” so time will tell what other features will be implemented to further support the app’s goals.

Snapchat Fights Drug Dealing With Automated Drug Detection System On App 

Snapchat announced that they will be making a greater effort to combat drug dealing on the platform. The announcement is partially due to the increased amount of drug-related deaths among US high school and college-aged students. 

Snapchat announced that they have adopted improved automated drug detection systems as well as enhancing partnerships with law enforcement. The app will also now have a portal that can be used for educating users on the dangers of drugs. 

“Our position on this has always been clear: we have absolutely zero tolerance for drug dealing on Snapchat. We have a unique opportunity to use our voice, technology and resources to help address this scourge, which threatens the lives of our community members.”

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The increased security efforts come after the CDC warned of a major spike of drug overdoses in 2021, mainly driven by fentanyl; a cheap synthetic opioid that’s 100 times more potent than heroin, and is often mixed with counterfeit pills that young people buy through social media. 

In 2020 fentanyl fatalities rose by 32% when compared to 2019; more than 93,000 deaths. Individuals aged 24 or younger have seen a 50% increase in drug deaths as well.

“Every drug you try now is a game of Russian roulette,” Shabbir Safdar, director of the Partnership for Safe Medicines, a non-profit fighting pharmaceutical counterfeits, said

A recent study from the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found that pills labeled as Oxycontin, Percocet, Xanax or Adderall are readily available on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Craigslist. 

Within the past year Snapchat claims it has increased its proactive detection of drug sales by 390%; increasing security efforts by 50% within the last quarter alone. When Snapchat’s systems detect drug dealing activity on the app the account is automatically banned and the creator is blocked from creating new accounts on the platform. 

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The company has also increased their partnerships with law enforcement and improved on response times to law enforcement inquiries by 85% within the past year. 

Snapchat said it is “working with experts to continually update the list of slang and drug-related terms blocked from search results on Snapchat. Other platforms should also take measures to put a stop to the massive rise in online drug dealing. This is not just a Snapchat problem,” said Christine Elgersma, a senior editor at children’s safety non-profit Common Sense Media.

At a 2021 congressional hearing, Instagram executive Adam Mosseri had to answer questions regarding drug dealing on social media.

“Why are children’s accounts even allowed to search for drug content to begin with, much less allowed to do so in a way that leads them to a drug dealer in two clicks?” asked the Republican senator Mike Lee of Utah.

“Accounts selling drugs or any other regulated goods are not allowed on the platform. The app uses technology to proactively take down a huge number of drug-related posts, Mosseri responded.

Almost 80% Of Americans Have Been Exposed To Misinformation Online Regarding Covid-19, Survey Says

Between social media and the plethora of news outlets reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic, many Americans aren’t sure what information to believe. New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 80% of Americans surveyed said they had heard of at least one of the falsehoods perpetuated by online misinformation and either believed it, or were unsure whether or not it was true. 

“Most commonly, six in ten adults have heard that the government is exaggerating the number of Covid-19 deaths by counting deaths due to other factors such as coronavirus deaths and either believe this to be true (38%) or aren’t sure if it’s true or false (22%).”

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“One-third of respondents believe or are unsure whether deaths due to the Covid-19 vaccine are being intentionally hidden by the government (35%), and about three in ten each believe or are unsure whether Covid-19 vaccines have been shown to cause infertility (31%) or whether Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19 (28%),” the authors wrote.

The survey also found that “between a fifth and a quarter of the public believe or are unsure whether the vaccines can give you COVID-19 (25%), contain a microchip (24%), or can change your DNA (21%).”

Outlandish ideas such as vaccine microchips, trackers, or changes to DNA have been reported by “trusted” media outlets and have made a vast impact on many Americans in their choice to get vaccinated or not. 

“People’s trusted news sources are correlated with their belief in COVID-19 misinformation. At least a third of those who trust information from CNN, MSNBC, network news, NPR, and local television news do not believe any of the eight false statements, while small shares (between 11% and 16%) believe or are unsure about at least four of the eight false statements.”

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These results prove that traditional sources of media are helping people separate facts from falsehoods. However, Republicans have made it clear that sources such as CNN and NPR are not to be trusted. 

The survey found that “nearly 4 in 10 of those who trust Fox News (36%) and One America News (37%), and nearly half (46%) of those who trust Newsmax, saying they believe or are unsure about at least half of the eight false statements.”

The researchers cautioned, however, that “whether this is because people are exposed to misinformation from those news sources, or whether the types of people who choose those news sources are the same ones who are pre-disposed to believe certain types of misinformation for other reasons, is beyond the scope of the analysis.”

Post reporter Aaron Blake followed up with Kaiser and concluded that the overall numbers “obscure just how ripe the right is for this kind of misinformation. That’s because, “in most cases, if you exclude Republicans who haven’t heard the claims and focus on just who is familiar with them, a majority of them actually believe the claims.”

David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote “Covid vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing severe Covid, and almost 40 percent of Republican adults remain unvaccinated, compared with about 10 percent of Democratic adults. In the Kaiser research, unvaccinated adults were more likely than vaccinated adults to believe four or more of the eight false statements.”

According To Pearson/NORC Poll, Most Americans Think Misinformation Is A Problem

According to the results of a poll released by the Pearson Institution and Associated Press-NORC, 95% of Americans believe that misinformation regarding current events and issues to is a problem, with 81% saying it’s a major problem.

Additionally, 91% say that social media companies are responsible for the spread of misinformation, with 93% saying the same of social media users. More Americans said that they blame social media users, social media companies, and U.S. politicians for misinformation spreading more than the U.S. Government or other foreign governments. However, older adults are more likely to blame foreign countries than younger adults.

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41% are worried they have been exposed to misinformation, but just 20% are worried they have spread it themselves. The poll, which involved 1,071 adults, found that younger adults are more likely to worry about possibly having spread misinformation more than older adults.

Lastly, most Americans felt that social media companies and users, the U.S. government, and U.S. politicians all share responsibility for dealing with the spread of misinformation.

The results of this poll shouldn’t be too surprising, as the threat and spreading of misinformation has grown exponentially during the rise of social media in the past decade.

In addition, major events have been at the center point of misinformation, such as elections, natural disasters, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have had their opinions on the virus and vaccines effected due to the fake news that is swirling around them, which shows us that something as simple as a lie or exaggeration in an article can have massive, negative impacts.

Social media platforms have made attempts in the past to combat misinformation. Back in 2017, Facebook discussed some of the steps it was taking to limit this matter, such as updating fake account detection, identifying fake news while fact-checking organizations, and making it harder for parties guilty of misinformation spreading to buy ads. Facebook also assured users of easier reporting of fake news and improved news feed rankings.

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Those improvements clearly haven’t done much, if anything at all. In 2020, Forbes reported on a study that found that Facebook was the leading social media site to refer to fake news over 15% of the time, while referring to hard news just 6%. It wasn’t a close margin between social media sites, either. Google came in with 3.3% untrustworthy versus 6.2% hard news, while Twitter had 1% untrustworthy versus 1.5% hard news.

Speaking to 60 Minutes, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen explained how the tech giant prioritized what content users would see on their news feeds, which helped led to the spread of misinformation that targeted fierce reactions.

“And one of the consequences of how Facebook is picking out that content today is it is — optimizing for content that gets engagement, or reaction. But its own research is showing that content that is hateful, that is divisive, that is polarizing, it’s easier to inspire people to anger than it is to other emotions.”

If you are worried about biting the bait on or spreading around misinformation, there are plenty of ways to train yourself to have a more keen eye. According to The Verge, looking at factors such as survey and infographic sources, quotes, names and keywords, and the time-sensitivity of an article can all help you in concluding whether or not there may be misinformation afoot.

You should also take the time to consider other details, such as who is providing the information and how the story is being presented by different media sources. The Verge also urges for readers to think about their own feelings— are you getting strong emotions from reading the article? Do you want to instantly share it? If articles are feeding into reactions more than emphasizing actual facts or information, then that could be a red flag.

Facebook Postpones “Instagram For Kids”

Following sharp backlash from parents, users, and lawmakers, Facebook has announced that it is pausing their latest venture: “Instagram Kids,” a spin-off of the photo-sharing app that would target tweens between the ages of 10-12.

In a statement published on their blog, Facebook explained that while the need to continue building their project remains, they will be working with those who were most vocal about Facebook’s planned platform:

“While we stand by the need to develop this experience, we’ve decided to pause this project. This will give us time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today.”

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The app had been in development since March and was set to be led by the head of Instagram Adam Mosseri and Facebook vice president Pavni Diwanji. Diwanji had previously been influential in Google’s launch of Youtube Kids back in 2015.

However, the titan of industry, which acquired Instagram in 2012, did not back down from the vast amount of criticism and admit failure. Instead, they defended their attempts at targeting a group that some might argue are the most vulnerable to the dangers and pressures of the online world:

“Critics of “Instagram Kids” will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case. The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”

While the app may not be going forward at the moment, there is plenty of merit to creating a safe social platform space for younger audiences who, one way or another, will inevitably make their way online.

When you hear the words “middle school” and “social media,” cyberbullying is probably the first thought to your mind. Thanks to Instagram’s popularity among teens and it’s plethora of features, which include direct and group messaging, stories, tagging, posting, and multiple account creations, it has become a breeding ground for aggressive virtual assaults.

According to the Pew Research Center, 59% of teenagers have experienced at least one method of harassment online across all platforms of social media. These can include name-calling, negative rumors, and receiving unrequested explicit images.

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Ditch the Label, a U.K. based anti-bullying charity, conducted a survey in 2017 that showed that out of the 78% of young users on Instagram, 42% experienced some form of cyberbullying. That was the highest bullying rate of all young users on any platform, beating out Facebook by 6%:

The Pew Research Center also found that 66% of teens felt social media platforms were not doing a good enough job of addressing online harassment. Facebook has stated their plans to continue enhancing safety on Instagram, implementing changes such as AI detection technology, restrictions, hidden words and the ability to make accounts private.

Facebook has also started using cross-checking technology in order to confirm user ages. Up until a couple years ago, Instagram had only required a new user to input their birth date in order to confirm they were 13 or older- something that was unbelievably easy for young tweens to lie about.

Despite Facebook’s continued safety measures, a recent Wall Street Journal report has revealed that the company is aware of the potential dangers their apps hold to their younger target audience, specifically to teen girls. However, the company has downplayed these concerns publicly.

This new information has led politicians to cast doubt on Facebook and Instagram’s ability to correctly adapt a system that prioritizes the safety of young users while also maintaining their key aspects that allow cyberbullying to consist.

Facebook Whistleblower To Testify In Front Of Senate Regarding Company’s Impact On Kids

Frances Haugen is a former Facebook product manager, who was recently identified as the Facebook whistleblower who released tens of thousands of pages of research and documents that indicate the company was more than aware of the various negative impacts its platforms have, particularly on young girls. 

Haugen worked on civic integrity issues within the company. Now, Haugen will be questioned by a Senate Commerce subcommittee about what Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, knew regarding its effects on young users and a multitude of other issues. 

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“I believe what I did was right and necessary for the common good — but I know Facebook has infinite resources, which it could use to destroy me. I came forward because I recognized a frightening truth: almost no one outside of Facebook knows what happens inside Facebook.”

Haugen previously shared a series of documents with regulators at the Wall Street Journal, which published a multi-part investigation on Facebook, showing the platform was aware of the problems within its apps, including the negative effects of misinformation’s and the harm caused by Instagram on young users. 

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harm it caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action. And today, the government is taking action against companies that hid evidence on opioids. I implore you to do the same here. Facebook’s leadership won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people,” she explained. 

This is not the first time Facebook will be subject to Congressional hearings regarding its power and influence over its users. Haugen’s upcoming testimony will speak to the overall issue of social media platforms and the amount of power they have in regards to personal data and privacy practices. 

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Haugen discussed how her goal isn’t to bring down Facebook, but to reform it from the toxic traits that continue to exist today. Around a month ago Haugen filed at least eight complaints to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The complaints alleged that the company is hiding research about its shortcomings from investors, and of course, the public. 

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection, released a statement this Sunday after Haugen’s appearance on “60 Minutes” where she identified herself as the whistleblower.

“From her [Haugen’s] first visit to my office, I have admired her backbone and bravery in revealing terrible truths about one of the world’s most powerful, implacable corporate giants. We now know about Facebook’s destructive harms to kids … because of documents Frances revealed.”

Following the Wall Street Journal’s investigative piece on Facebook, Antigone Davis, the company’s global head of safety, was questioned by members of the same Senate subcommittee, specifically in regards to Facebook’s impact on young users. Davis tried to downplay the idea that these reports are being seen as a “bombshell” by the public, and didn’t commit to releasing a fully detailed research report, to defend Facebook’s side of the argument, due to “privacy considerations.”

“Facebook’s actions make clear that we cannot trust it to police itself. We must consider stronger oversight, effective protections for children, and tools for parents, among the needed reforms,” Senator Blumenthal added.

Experts Worried About Rise Of ‘Zoom Dysmorphia’ As Pandemic Continues

Experts are worried that spending too much time staring at ourselves in “funhouse mirror” sizes on video-conferencing calls will begin to distort our self images.

Facebook Remains Under Fire For Continuously Spreading Covid-19 Vaccine Misinformation 

President Joe Biden called out tech giants and social media platforms like Facebook for failing to tackle the problem of misinformation being spread regarding the Covid-19 vaccine. The White House released a statement in which they claimed to have zeroed in on the “disinformation dozen,” which is in reference to 12 major social media accounts that have shown to be responsible for spreading a majority of the anti-vaccine misinformation online. 

“Facebook has repeatedly said it is going to take action, but in reality we have seen a piecemeal enforcement of its own community standards where some accounts are taken off Instagram but not Facebook and vice versa. There has been a systemic failure to address this,” said Imran Ahmed, the CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the organization behind the “disinformation dozen” study.

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The report identified 12 “superspreader accounts,” and a Facebook spokesperson claims the company has permanently banned all pages groups and accounts that “repeatedly break the rules on Covid misinformation including more than a dozen pages groups and accounts from these individuals.”

The CCDH confirmed that they have removed 35 accounts across multiple social media platforms so far. There are currently about 8.4 million followers spread across 62 active accounts that are still spreading anti-vaccine misinformation.

The main issue with these accounts is the amount of followers who believe that the information is real. Many of these accounts post false facts about the vaccine that claim its unsafe, ineffective, and not worth getting despite the overwhelming amount of evidence from a multitude of studies on these vaccines before they were distributed to the public. 

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Jessica Gonzalez is the co-CEO at Free Pass, a media equity group, who recently spoke out about how a lot of these posts are prevalent on Spanish-language Facebook.

“Facebook needs a much better mechanism to stop the spread of false information about the vaccine, and they need to make sure they’re doing that across languages. It’s difficult to gauge the scope of the issue when Facebook doesn’t share figures.”

According to the social media watchdog Accountable Tech, “11 out of the top 15 vaccine related-posts on Facebook last week contained disinformation or were anti-vaccine.”

Vaccination rates in the US are currently plateauing as new cases continue to rise among unvaccinated individuals almost exclusively. 67% of Americans have received at least one vaccination and 58% are fully vaccinated. 

“Action needs to be taken regarding vaccine misinformation. Social media has greatly contributed to this misinformation – there’s no doubt. When we have a public health crisis and people are dying every day, enough is enough,” said Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar.