The meme business

Carly Mae Japson's popular hit song was used in this meme to encourage adoption of pets by animal activists

Public relations, advertising and marketing professionals have taken advantage of Internet memes as a strategy of spreading the ‘buzz’ towards their products and services. Memes have become a form of viral marketing tapped to create awareness among Netizens. According to popular definition, the term “meme” came from the Greek word mimema, which means “something imitated”. It was introduced in 1976 by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins to describe the way humans’ transmit social memories and cultural ideas and truths to one another, or simply put, how ideas travel from one mind to another.

The practice of using memes to market products or services is known as memetic marketing. It is usually observed whenever marketers attach brand messages to already-trending memes which could be a clever phrase to create humorous situations that audiences relate to, photos, popular GIFs, spoken phrases or videos. Interest is created by transforming these into trivia, ephemera, or frivolity rather than engage in straightforward selling of the product. Doing this helps audiences remember and relate to the brand resulting in more engagement and higher reach.

Internet memes have become popular marketing tactics because they are cost-effective, invokes emotion and have gained a following.

Memes are used because they are easy and cheap to create with sites like memegenerator.net which allows users to find a popular meme and customize it by attaching their brand and slogan as well as upload images. One popular example is the “Adopt me maybe” parody, which animal activist and pet fashion designer Anthony Rubio created in 2012, riding the wave of Carly Rae Jepson’s hit song “Call Me Maybe”.

Meanwhile, feel good and funny contents have a way of connecting with audiences emotions which in turn increases their desire to share it among their network. This is often called sharing positive vibes. Because we live in a culture that likes to share, social media users are wired to share any unusual, humorous and positive information they find. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, each is designed to help users engage one another through sharing and if the meme created is interesting enough, it is likely to be shared in ways that will be successful beyond other marketing tactics employed.

“Dumb Ways to Die” is now becoming a meme using the humour appeal to engage audiences. It is a public announcement ad campaign by Metro Trains Melbourne meant to promote train safety. Different memes has already been created by using the illustrated characters in various parodies and video games showing actual people’s reckless behaviours that may be considered as dumb. But the characters are not just used in safety remembers, but as marketing icons as well.

Lastly, memes are not memes unless they’re already a popular theme spreading through an community. By using something that’s already popular and attaching a branded message, marketers are leveraging the success of something that’s gone viral so there is no need start from scratch. Infusing an already established meme with the brand, ensures driving traffic to its website by followers.

Be it on their Facebook page, their website, or even on a billboard, no one can dispute the success of Virgin Media’s “Success Kid” meme.  Success Kid, sometimes known as I Hate Sandcastles, is a reaction image of a baby at a beach with a smug facial expression. It has been used in image macros to designate either success or frustration. In early 2011, the original image was turned into an advice animal style image macro with captions describing a situation that goes better than expected.

Memes are an excellent way of quickly and easily reaching vast audiences across the internet due to their cost effectiveness, popularity and simplicity to create. Generally if memes are already successful one can build up on it just as what Virgin Media managed to do with their ‘Success Kid’ billboards.

What metadata can say about you

The conduct of surveillance may sound like something that only happens in thriller and spy movies or behind the walls of secret service agencies, but the reality is that it is a privacy and security threat that affects all individuals and organisations with an internet connection. The National Security Agency scandal has caught the public’s attention as it was revealed by contractor Edward Snowden that they are obtaining information about foreigner and citizens of the United States through the use of their metadata obtained in archived cache.

Metadata are information that describes how and when and by whom a particular set of data was collected, and how it is managed within an application, system or environment. Metadata is not necessarily confined to information about an individual creator or user, but also provides descriptive information about an organization, its activities, systems, and holdings.

This description of what metadata is and how much it reveals is a cause for alarm as it provides an opportunity for a peak into someone’s life and draw inferences. For instance, someone who wants to know where you live can locate you by obtaining your IP address and attaching it with a location. But searches are limitless as they can be expounded into potentially identifying your name, even likes, thoughts, wants, beliefs and so on.

It’s a scenario that has painted a bleak future for information privacy. As more and more services are being moved online and computerized, users are required to reveal vast amounts of personal information to utilise these systems, and because metadata is ‘data about data’, these information can be analysed over a short time window and can reveal a person’s medical conditions, car ownership, and more. This makes it relevant to understand how metadata privacy leakages happen resulting to inferences. Leakage is defined as the disclosure of sensitive personal information and do not stem from the content of data made public. According to a study, there are three ways of extracting information on metadata to make inferences or assumptions about an online user. These are from size and structure of stored content, how control mechanisms are utilised, and based on communication patterns.

First, assumptions on online and mobile users can be generated from stored content. While encrypting may address certain privacy concerns, there remain possibilities of privacy leakages from the stored data. The size, structure, and modification time of ciphertexts may reveal information that the user originally intended to hide. For example, by knowing the size of stored content, we can infer storage of large numbers of photos, images and text, and for structure we can deduce the number of friends or followers by the likes and comments generated by a person’s account.

Second are inferences deduced from access control mechanisms. Choosing access to right settings might allow conclusions about a user’s social relationships to be drawn such as the Encryption Header can give us an idea on audience size or even identities and number of

friends. Key distribution tells us frequency of friend status changes, and key reutilisation are on same content audience

Inferences can also be drawn based on communication flows. A metadata analyst can gain additional insights into a user’s activities by capturing network traffic that is related to the user. For instance, SNS-related network traffic can already on a very low protocol level that the IP address of a user can be trivially obtained and tracked over time. This allows correlating with activities with frequency and nature of usage internet services like file sharing or voice-over, determining geographic location information about the user via geo-mappings, or inferring general habits overtime like opening Facebook during lunch break or checking emails every 30 minutes. Another example that gives other a peak on user personality is in content sharing practices by merely observing upload activities and site traffic.

As metadata analysis is not that complicated, individuals, companies and public organisations should treat their metadata as sensitive as other kinds of data, and ensure adequate protection. Anyone could sift through it by looking at key words, combining them into recognizable patterns and then making inferences, or by simply comparing data sets with just a few columns containing numbers and cause harm.

Analysing twitter quitters with the Hype Cycle Curve

The ‘hype cycle’, on the other hand is a conceptual framework for understanding how technologies move from introduction to widespread application.

Statistics have been released on the meteoric rise of Twitter that resulted to it being recognised as one of the behemoths of social media. Growth from its launch in February 2008 to February 2009 was reportedly at 1382%, with the incline increasing further in recent months. In 2010, it was reported that users are signing up at the rate of 300,000 per day with 180 million unique visitors coming to the site every month. As of July 2014, total number of active registered Twitter users stands at 645,750,000, with the number of new users signing up every day at 135,000.

But a result of a study conducted by statistics tracking firm Nielsen cautions us that the number of accounts may continue to increase, but the battle that has to be fought is in its measly 30% retention rate.  Like in many social networks, it seems many users lose interest with the service with 60% of users who sign up fail to return the following month.

Nielsen compared the retention rate of Twitter against Facebook and MySpace while they were all just emerging and those who remain active in using them after a while remain twice as high. Even after they went through the peak of their growth phases, user activity continue going up with both Facebook and MySpace retention rates at nearly 70 percent today.

Some say that the numbers are down because Twitter failed to live up to how it was hyped by the media. During its infancy, media wrote lots of puff about how great Twitter is. One of the memorable public relations stunt pulled was when Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN to a popularity contest racing to get 1 million followers. If he wins, Kutcher says he will “ding-dong ditch” CNN founder Ted Turner’s house. The media hypes encouraged people to sign up and see for themselves what the fuss is all about. With more people signing up, the more articles get written, even by less techy media outlet and bloggers, resulting to more and more people signing up. But many of those who sign up use it once or twice and then give up, either temporarily or permanently. Just as there are hundreds of thousands of dead blogs because people signed up and then couldn’t be bothered to keep updating them.

In analysing the Twitter dilemma, Gartner’s Hype Cycle curve can be used. The Oxford dictionary defines hype as the intensive promotion or publication of a product or idea often exaggerating its benefits. The ‘hype cycle’, on the other hand is a conceptual framework for understanding how technologies move from introduction to widespread application. The process is whenever a new technology comes along, it usually gets hyped to the point of inflating user expectations about how much it will change their life, then users encounter interface or applicability problem until they get disillusioned by the unfulfilled promises. These difficulties lead to them becoming dormant users until they finally decide to quit altogether.

As I understand Twitter, the problem with it is that the main dynamic is more of the performer/audience. It suits celebrities and other self-promoters, compared with Facebook which celebrates the ordinary, the humdrum of everyday life. Twitter is a way for self-promoters to stoke fans’ riotous curiosity to see, know and comment on the scandalous details of their life. They are confident that followers are hanging on their every word. It is for those who already have an established fan-base or follower, but for those wanting to be followed by new people, it’s an uphill task.

Another reason for the alleged Twitter exodus could be its ‘Me and myself’ nature. It is fun to find interesting people, groups and organisations to follow, but it can be disheartening if nobody follows you back. Twitter can be greatly enjoyed if one doesn’t expect too much from it in terms of relating to others.

But the main question is surviving after all the hype. How can Twitter make sure that users stick around for the long haul? Encouragingly, nearly 60% of former Twitter users said they’d be willing to give it another go and persist in its use if sorting and filtering mechanism will be improved, if more of their friends will join this microblogging platform, and assistance with matching or helping users amass followers.

Distinguishing the Journalists

Twitter users mistakenly paid tribute to the wrong Williams.
Twitter users mistakenly paid tribute to the wrong Williams.

The Internet has greatly changed the media landscape. Breaking news and real-time updates are readily made available via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. With everyone taking the role of the publisher, the normative role of the journalism profession and journalists as the primary and most credible source of information is constantly being challenged. Can they remain relevant when the information we seek is just a click away?

With conviction, we can answer that yes, the journalism profession and journalists as practitioners will remain relevant as long the public clamour for a credible source of news where they can verify information that they got via social networking sites. One instance that Twitter users got it wrong was in the reporting of the death of singer Robbie Williams, instead of much-loved comedian Robin Williams. In no time, Twitter was awash with Robbie and Take That tweets mourning the loss of the young musician. But those who have doubts turned to access a journalism site produced by major news organizations such as CNN.com, NYTimes.com, USATODAY.com to verify the information. These actions validate that we still turn to journalists if we want to get information we can trust, and they will continue to be relevant as long as we, as consumers of news want to know the truth.

Ethics is one thing that distinguishes journalists from people who just churns heaps of information on the internet. Their credibility and regard for newsroom ethics are things that make us feel confident that we are not being lied to. Journalists and news institutions earn the public’s trust through the regular provision of information that is credible through observing the interconnection of roles, values, and content in the industry. Expanding on the subject of ethics, there are three distinct practices that journalists adhere to in pursuit of news – respect for privacy, pursuit of accuracy and observance of proper attribution.

As much as possible, journalists are ethically-bound to respect the privacy of individuals. When everyone consider information posted in social media as fair game, journalists don’t just use these posts without obtaining permission. The Society of Professional Journalists reminds media practitioners “to recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention.” This is because private individuals never intended to be scrutinised in the public eye unlike celebrities and politicians. Furthermore, the Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman said legitimate journalist’s are aware of their responsibility of differentiating between what is public or private, and what is ethical. We can learn from the case of Christine Fox whose tweets on sexual assault were used by Buzzfeed without permission and in the course violated long-standing practice of asking for permission and not identifying victims of assault in publications.

Next, journalists go to great lengths to validate the accuracy of information received particularly when it comes to images and videos obtained online or those sent by those claiming to be citizen journalists. This is because of the danger posed by technology. Nowadays, it is so easy to manipulate images and videos. A person can be added or something can be deleted in the picture to make up a story. This convergence of ease of capture, transmission, and manipulation has made their dent on the integrity of news. But journalists don’t get caught up in the excitement of breaking a news story just like what happened in the case of Robin Williams. Journalists know that it is right and fair for the audiences that information delivered are checked or validated.

Finally, we go back to trust and journalists are not usually inclined to compete for attention, thus they observe honesty through proper attribution of sources. They reveal their sources whenever they blog, re-tweet, broadcast or write with social networks as source of information. In cases that sources prefer to remain unanimous, journalists still attribute the information to “reliable” or “informed” sources.

In conclusion, adherence to ethical principles of respect for privacy, verification of facts, and honesty are the things that make journalists relevant in this age of information explosion. As long as there are people who wanted to get their information right, then journalism will continue to occupy its rightful place in digital and online media.

You have power over trolls

Zelda William's posted this tweet after she experienced online bullying. she decided to quit Twitter in order 'to heal.'
Zelda William’s posted this tweet after she experienced online bullying. she decided to quit Twitter in order ‘to heal.’

You have power over trolls

One of the most common, but useful advice given to social media users is to never attempt to “Un-troll a troll.” The exchange of views and differences in opinion are things to expect in social media and this makes it a great platform for researchers to gather information on public opinion as they can access users’ thoughts, feelings and actions expressed instantaneously and organically. But there is a huge difference between ‘disagreeing’ and ‘trolling’. According to social media coach and blogger Jane Fouts, trolls are those who engage in social media to make life miserable for high profile sites or people. They essentially spend their time looking for high-profile people to grumble at and rile to get a response. The bigger the argument becomes the more it excite them as these encounters make them feel that they matter in the online world.

One who has a recent and traumatic encounter with trolls is Zelda Williams, the daughter of one of the finest comedians of his generation, Robin Williams. He was known for movies such as Jumanji, Hook, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, among other films that influenced us. The unexpected announcement of his death last week prompted a massive outpouring of grief mostly expressed through social media.

Immediately after his death, Zelda posted a tribute to her father through Twitter and photos via Instagram as her way of dealing with her grief. Thinking that people would be sympathetic and understanding of what she was going through, it was surprising that her nostalgic, heartfelt posts were bombarded with cruel accusations that she was responsible for her father’s death and fake pictures of his suicide.

Zelda in a statement said, “Mining our accounts for photos of dad, or judging me on the number of them, is cruel and unnecessary.” I will be leaving this account for a bit while I heal and decide if I’ll be deleting it or not.” She further appealed, “In this difficult time, please try to be respectful of the accounts of myself, my family and my friends.”

This prompted Twitter to police its users and suspend a number of accounts for rule violations. The management also committed to launch an investigation on the bullying and harassment that Zelda Williams encountered. It is commendable for social media companies to regulate its users but this regulation is usually met by protests on violation of user’s freedom of expression. In the end, we can just concede that the power of anonymity brought by social media are abused by others and see this as the perfect opportunity to let out the cruelty that is within their nature.

Zelda’s response of deactivating her account and not dignifying these trolls with a response urges us to go back to the advice of never attempting to “Un-troll a troll.” Whoever came up with this should be given a Noble Peace Prize or any humanitarian award as this person has already saved the lives and sanity of millions of social media users. But if the inevitable happens, it is helpful to know how to deal with a troll.

Geoffrey Stackhouse who is a member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia came up with some advice on dealing with social media trolls. The number one rule when responding to their criticism is to stay positive. Say something very short and to the point like “thank you for taking the interest to read my post,” then proceed by saying a sincere piece and ignore any further attempt to engage.

Next is be respectful. This makes the aggressor look worse. Speaking from experience, I know it is difficult to keep quiet and not defend yourself when someone lies about you or maligns your character. But remind yourself, that you don’t know them and they don’t know who you are, thus it is better to be silent than sink to their level.

Last is to not let them win by deactivating your account. This just gives them power over you. As life guru, Dr. Phil always say, take your power (or mojo) back. In social media, you have the power to delete posts that are abusive, hateful or uses bad language. Furthermore, if someone terrorizes you on your Facebook page, blog or on Twitter, unfriend them or block their IP address so you don’t have to encounter them ever again.

This is a reminder to social media user that the first rule to deal with an abusive troll is to keep calm.
This is a reminder to social media users that the first rule to deal with an abusive troll is to keep calm.

Next time you encounter trolls, keep calm and pretend they don’t exist.

Of fakesters and scammers

data snapshot

Last week, I attended a lecture on the History of Social Media. The lecturer presented a slide on the most widely used social media platforms. I nearly (but didn’t) doze off when he started giving out numbers, but the joke he made about Facebook was very interesting. He said that of the 1.25 billion accounts created, only ten percent are real people.

My own history with Facebook can be traced way back in 2007 and it had a positive effect on my personal relationships. First, our family remained close despite living so far from each other. Second, I managed to find long lost school friends whom I’m happy to have back in my life. Finally, I made new friends and discovered wonderful people who I get to exchange views on just about everything.

But I also have my share of mishaps. One of reasons was that I never had any issue in making my virtual identity as close to the real me, thus the danger of oversharing. Maybe it is a bit naïve to expect other people to do the same. An experience that taught me to be cautious and make use of the block and report feature was when I inadvertently got involved with a “scammer”. Early on, the person was very friendly and I thought there wasn’t any harm in the friendship. Well, not until this person started asking for financial details, asking to borrow money and trying to convince me to meet up so he can prove that he’s a real. It was creepy. Based on this experience, I now make use of the privacy settings especially when it comes to my personal profile, status updates and the comments I make.

The lecture made me ponder upon two points. First is to try to understand why people feel the need to create a different persona on social networking sites (SNS), and the second is the relevance of knowing the difference between a “fakester” and a “scammer”.

Danah Boyd whose early work tracked the presence of fakesters on Friendster wrote a manifesto in defense of fakesters in her blog entitled Apophenia. According to her, everyone has the right to present themselves depending on personality, whim, temperament, or subjective need in any given moment. She insisted that this urge is a natural defense mechanism that helps us survive in SNS as we adapt to greatly differing circumstances. By assuming a different persona, individuals are consciously able to construct an “ideal” online representation of self that serves as an escape from reality (Boyd, 2003).

Moreover, the idea of being “fakester” on social network does not necessarily mean that the account doesn’t belong to a real person or the account was created with the malicious intent to mislead. It is just that sometimes an individual need to negotiate presentations of self in order to connect with others, self-preserve and maintain friendships.

On the contrary, the presence of malice is what mainly differentiates “fakesters” from “scammers”. Some social network users create their accounts as a means to spot potential victims. SNS has become a very effective medium to distribute hoaxes, misinformation, rumours and outright nonsense of all kinds. Some well-known scams are in the form of messages claiming that, due to a payment issue, your account will be cancelled unless you click a link and update credit card details or FB users sending a link notifying recipients that they have been selected to receive a large donation from a deceased millionaire from overseas.

At the end of the day, what is important is respecting the choice of people who feel the need to magnify facets of their own personalities or fantasies to create their “ideal” selves through SNS. Secondly, not every aspect of our personality or life is open for sharing and these are some of the reasons why some Facebook users choose to be “fakesters”. On the other hand, it is also vital that we recognise that a huge portion of the 90% of fake accounts are created by “scammers” whose sole purpose for existing in Web 2.0 is to con people of their hard-earned money.

We should be cautious of “fakesters” but the “scammers” are the ones we should steer clear of out of the 1.25 billion Facebook users.

Engaged

During the infancy of SMS or what we commonly called as text messaging, our country took pride in  being the “Texting Capital of the World.” Even farmers in rural areas with no regular electricity would find ways to charge to send text messages to loved ones. Nowadays, the Philippines is aiming at notching another title, that of becoming known as the “Social Networking Capital of the World,” by becoming a major player in the use of social media in the Asia-Pacific Region.
During the infancy of SMS or what we commonly called as text messaging, our country took pride in being the “Texting Capital of the World.” Even farmers in rural areas with no regular electricity would find ways to charge to send text messages to loved ones.
Nowadays, the Philippines is aiming at notching another title, that of becoming known as the “Social Networking Capital of the World,” by becoming a major player in the use of social media in the Asia-Pacific Region.