Category Archives: Facebook

Research finds heavy Facebook users make impaired decisions like drug addicts

Researchers at Michigan State University are exploring the idea that there’s more to “social media addiction” than casual joking about being too online might suggest. Their paper, titled “Excessive social media users demonstrate impaired decision making in the Iowa Gambling Task” (Meshi, Elizarova, Bender and Verdejo-Garcia) and published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, indicates that people who use social media sites heavily actually display some of the behavioral hallmarks of someone addicted to cocaine or heroin.

The study asked 71 participants to first rate their own Facebook usage with a measure known as the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. The study subjects then went on to complete something called the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a classic research tool that evaluates impaired decision making. The IGT presents participants with four virtual decks of cards associated with rewards or punishments and asks them to choose cards from the decks to maximize their virtual winnings. As the study explains, “Participants are also informed that some decks are better than others and that if they want to do well, they should avoid the bad decks and choose cards from the good decks.”

What the researchers found was telling. Study participants who self-reported as excessive Facebook users actually performed worse than their peers on the IGT, frequenting the two “bad” decks that offer immediate gains but ultimate result in losses. That difference in behavior was statistically significant in the latter portion of the IGT, when a participant has had ample time to observe the deck’s patterns and knows which decks present the greatest risk.

The IGT has been used to study everything from patients with frontal lobe brain injuries to heroin addicts, but using it as a measure to examine social media addicts is novel. Along with deeper, structural research, it’s clear that researchers can apply to social media users much of the existing methodological framework for learning about substance addiction.

The study is narrow, but interesting, and offers a few paths for follow-up research. As the researchers recognize, in an ideal study, the researchers could actually observe participants’ social media usage and sort them into categories of high or low social media usage based on behavior rather than a survey they fill out.

Future research could also delve more deeply into excessive users across different social networks. The study only looked at Facebook use, “because it is currently the most widely used [social network] around the world,” but one could expect to see similar results with the billion-plus monthly Instagram and potentially the substantially smaller portion of people on Twitter.

Ultimately, we know that social media is shifting human behavior and potentially its neurological underpinnings, we just don’t know the extent of it — yet. Due to the methodical nature of behavioral research and the often extremely protracted process of publishing it, we likely won’t know for years to come the results of studies conducted now. Still, as this study proves, there are researchers at work examining how social media is impacting our brains and our behavior — we just might not be able to see the big picture for some time.

Facebook cuts down annoying “now connected on Messenger” alerts

“‘You Are Now Connected On Messenger’ Is The Worst Thing On Facebook’ Buzzfeed’s Katie Notopoulos correctly pointed out in a story yesterday. When you friend someone on Facebook or Messenger, or an old friend joins Messenger, you often get one of these annoying notifications. They fool you into thinking someone actually wants to chat with you while burying your real message threads.

Luckily, it turns out Facebook was already feeling guilty about this shameless growth hack. When I asked why, amidst its big push around Time Well Spent, it was sending these alerts, the company told me it’s already in the process of scaling them back.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch this statement:

We’ve found that many people have appreciated getting a notification when a friend joins Messenger. That said, we are working to make these notifications even more useful by employing machine learning to send fewer of them over time to people who enjoy getting them less. We appreciate all and any feedback that people send our way, so please keep it coming because it helps us make the product better.

So basically, if Messenger notices you never open those spammy alerts to start a chat thread, it will skip sending some of them.

Personally, I think these alerts should only be sent when users connect on Messenger specifically, which you can do with non-friends outside of Facebook. The company forced everyone to switch from Facebook Chat to Messenger years ago, but some people are only now relenting and actually downloading the app. I don’t think that should ever generate these alerts, since they have nothing to do with your own actions. Similarly, if I confirm a Facebook friend request from someone else, I know I’m now connected on Messenger too so no need to pester me with a notification.

But for now, if you hate these alerts, be sure not to open them so you send a signal to Facebook that you don’t want more.

Facebook does all sorts of this annoying growth hacking, like notifications about friends adding to their Story, “X, Y, and 86 other friends responded to events near you tomorrow”, and all the emails it sends if you stop visiting. If we can properly shame tech giants for the specifics of their most intrusive and distracting behavior, rather than just griping more vaguely about over use, we may be able to make swifter progress towards them respecting our attention.

Facebook finally monetizes Marketplace with ads from users and brands

20 months after launching its Craigslist competitor Marketplace and relentlessly promoting it with placement in the main navigation bar, Facebook will start earning money off its classifieds section. Facebook today begins testing Marketplace ads in the U.S. that let average users pay to “Boost” their listing to more people through the News Feed. While they’re easy for novices, requiring buyers to only to set a budget and how long the ads will run, there are no additional targeting options beyond being shown to age 18+ users in nearby zip codes.

Meanwhile, yesterday Facebook announced that it’s launching product ads from businesses that appear within Marketplace. After quietly opening in the U.S. in January and testing in Canada in May, Marketplace ads are now official, and can be bought in those two countries plus New Zealand and Australia. Businesses can extend their existing News Feed, video, Instagram, Messenger and other ad campaigns to Marketplace, and more types of objective-based campaigns will open to the classifieds section soon.

Facebook lets brands show ads within Marketplace

The Boost ads could be a big help if you need to rapidly liquidate your furniture before moving out, or if you’re trying to sell something big a high price, like Marketplace’s new car, housing, jobs, and home services offerings. Yet they seem inefficient, since the lack of targeting means your listing for men’s jewelry might show up to women, or your rock climbing gears ads could show up to senior citizens.

Facebook’s new Boost ads let average users pay to show their Marketplace listings to more people

But Facebook does tell me that ads will but auto-optimized for clicks, so when people start to click your ads, Facebook will show them to people of similar demographics. It will also immediately pause your ad campaign if you mark your item as sold. Boost ads get entered in alongside traditional bids in Facebook’s auction system which then display what it predicts will be the most appealing ads.

“Many Marketplace sellers have told us that they want the ability to show a listing to more people in their local area, especially if they’re trying to sell it quickly” Facebook Product Manager Harshit Agarwal tells TechCrunch. “We’re starting to test a simple way for sellers to boost their listings and help them find a buyer.” For comparison, Craiglist doesn’t run any ads, but charges sellers $5 to $10 for certain product listings cars and brokered apartments.

One interesting quirk is that Facebook says it won’t allow boosting of listings of political products such as a Bernie Sanders For President t-shirt, as its political advertiser verification and labeling system only works with Pages and not individuals right now.

The Boost ads will only appear to a small percentage of U.S. users and Facebook says it’s too early to know if it will roll them out futher. But as the company seems bent on swallowing up every other essential part of the internet, anything that makes Marketplace more useful to sellers and lucrative for the tech giant seems like a good bet for an official launch.

Together, the two formats could unlock new revenue streams for Facebook at a time when it’s starting to run out of ad inventory in the News Feed. The company either needs to open new surfaces like Marketplace to ads, or get people and businesses to pay more to fill its dwindling feed space if it wants to keep Wall Street happy.

Facebook is funding news programs from CNN, Fox News, Univision and others

Facebook has unveiled its initial lineup of news programming that will be airing in a dedicated section of Watch, the original video content initiative that the social network launched last year.

While these shows are being produced by outside media organizations, it’s actually Facebook that’s funding them. In a blog post, Head of News Partnerships Campbell Brown described this as an extension of the company’s announcement in January that it would prioritize meaningful social interaction over publisher content.

While that decision took a toll on digital publishers, Brown echoes CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s rationale for the move, saying that while there will be less news in users’ feeds, what remains should be “trustworthy, informative, and local.”

Here’s how Brown describes the news initiative:

This first lineup of funded shows includes news publishers from broadcast to digital native, national and local. The shows will be hosted by award-winning journalists, as well as new faces, and the formats will vary from a mix of daily briefings, weekly deep dives, and live breaking news coverage. They’ll debut later this summer, and we’ll announce additional shows in the coming weeks. We will work closely with our publisher partners to experiment with these different formats to understand what works, and they will have full editorial control of their shows.

The shows include:

  • A daily news show from ABC News
  • “Chasing Corruption,” a series from Alabama’s Advance Local that interviews watchdog journalists
  • A weekly explainer program from ATTN:
  • CNN’s “Anderson Cooper Full Circle,” a weekday news brief featuring Cooper and guests
  • Daily updates from Fox News’ Shepard Smith and others.
  • A twice weekly show from Mic.
  • Univision’s “Real America with Jorge Ramos,” where Ramos interviews immigrants from diverse backgrounds. Univision will also air a daily news roundup in Spanish.

Facebook introduces new bidding support for in-app ads

Facebook is expanding its support for header bidding, a technology that allows publishers to auction off ad impressions through real-time bidding between ad networks.

The company announced its support for header bidding on the mobile web last year. Today, it’s adding something similar for in-app advertising.

That means app publishers who use header bidding can include ads from Facebook’s Audience Network in their auctions. To enable this, Facebook is partnering with Fyber, MAX and Twitter’s MoPub.

Here’s how Facebook’s Vijay Balan laid out the benefits of the new approach:

Currently, ad networks are called one-by-one until an app ad is filled, determined by historical average CPMs rather than which buyer is willing to pay the most. This method often overlooks a network willing to pay more for an impression because it is lower in the chain.

App bidding enables app publishers and developers to establish an impartial and open auction over their ad inventory. All advertising networks are called simultaneously and the highest bidder for the placement wins, thereby providing publishers with opportunities to earn more. Publishers can maximize their access to high value advertisers, fueling the creation of sustainable ad businesses that help ensure people continue to enjoy access to high quality free content.

Balan said Facebook has already been testing this with publishers who have their own ad-serving technology, including Rovio, Talefun and GameInsight. Those early tests have seen revenue gains of up to 20 percent.

Washington sues Facebook and Google over failure to disclose political ad spending

Facebook and Google were paid millions for political advertising purposes in Washington but failed for years to publish related information — such as the advertiser’s address — as required by state law, alleges a lawsuit by the state’s attorney general.

Washington law requires that “political campaign and lobbying contributions and expenditures be fully disclosed to the public and that secrecy is to be avoided.”

Specifically, “documents and books of account” must be made available for public inspection during the campaign and for three years following; these must detail the candidate, name of advertiser, address, cost and method of payment, and description services rendered.

Bob Ferguson, Washington’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit yesterday alleging that both Facebook and Google “failed to obtain and maintain” this information. Earlier this year, Eli Sanders of Seattle’s esteemed biweekly paper The Stranger requested to view the “books of account” from both companies, and another person followed up with an in-person visit; both received unsatisfactory results.

They alerted the AG’s office to these investigations in mid-April, and here we are a month and a half later with a pair of remarkably concise lawsuits. (This appears to be separate from the Seattle Election Commission’s allegations of similar failings by Facebook in February.)

All told Facebook took in about $3.4 million over the last decade, including “$2.5 million paid through political consultants and other agents or intermediaries, and $619,861 paid directly to Facebook.” Google received about $1.5 million over the same period, almost none of which was paid directly to the company. (I’ve asked the AG’s office for more information on how these amounts are defined.)

The total yearly amounts listed in the lawsuits may be interesting to anyone curious about the scale of political payments to online platforms at the state scale, so I’m reproducing them here.

Facebook

  • 2013: $129,099
  • 2014: $310,165
  • 2015: $147,689
  • 2016: $1,153,688
  • 2017: $857,893

Google

  • 2013: $47,431
  • 2014: $72,803
  • 2015: $56,639
  • 2016: $310,175
  • 2017: $295,473

(Note that these don’t add up to the totals mentioned above; these are the numbers filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Committee. 2018 amounts are listed but are necessarily incomplete, so I omitted them.)

At least some of the many payments making up these results are not properly documented, and from the looks of it, this could amount to willful negligence. If a company is operating in a state and taking millions for political ads, it really can’t be unaware of that state’s disclosure laws. Yet according to the lawsuits, even basic data like names and addresses of advertisers and the amounts paid were not collected systematically, let alone made available publicly.

It’s impossible to characterize flouting the law in such a way as an innocent mistake, and certainly not when the mistake is repeated year after year. This isn’t an academic question: if the companies are found to have intentionally violated the law, the lawsuit asks that damages be tripled (technically, “trebled.”)

Neither company addressed the claims of the lawsuit directly when contacted for comment.

Facebook said in a statement that “Attorney General Ferguson has raised important questions and we look forward to resolving this matter with his office quickly.” The company also noted that it has taken several steps to improve transparency in political spending, such as its planned political ad archive and an API for requesting this type of data.

Google said only that it is “currently reviewing the complaint and will be engaging with the Attorney General’s office” and asserted that it is “committed” to transparency and disclosure, although evidently not in the manner Washington requires.

The case likely will not result in significant monetary penalties for the companies in question; even if fines and damages totaled tens of millions it would be a drop in the bucket for the tech giants. But deliberately skirting laws governing political spending and public disclosure is rather a bad look for companies under especial scrutiny for systematic dishonesty — primarily Facebook.

If the AG’s suit goes forward and the companies are found to have intentionally avoided doing what the law required, they (and others like them) would be under serious pressure to do so in the future, not just in Washington, but in other states where similar negligence may have taken place. AG Ferguson seems clearly to want to set a precedent and perhaps inspire others to take action.

I’ve asked the AG’s office for some clarifications and additional info, and will update this post if I hear back.

Facebook announces Oculus Connect dates Sept. 26-27

The Oculus Connect developer conference is back for its fifth year of chasing the VR dream.

Facebook VP or VR Hugo Barra announced that the company’s virtual reality-centric conference would be returning to San Jose on September 26 and 27. In past years, Oculus has used the conference to reveal its latest prototype hardware and to announce new software upgrades. This year, VR took center stage at Facebook’s F8 developer conference with the company using the event to launch the $199 Oculus Go standalone headset while also showcasing its latest prototype “Half Dome”.

It will be interesting to see what VR announcements are saved for Oculus at its own developer centric event and whether they use the opportunity to talk more about prototypes like its positionally-tracked “Santa Cruz” standalone which they have discussed the development of for the past two years.

Registration details for OC5 aren’t available yet but the application has typically gone live in mid-summer.

The erosion of Web 2.0

It seems quaint to imagine now but the original vision for the web was not an information superhighway. Instead, it was a newspaper that fed us only the news we wanted. This was the central thesis brought forward in the late 1990s and prophesied by thinkers like Bill Gates – who expected a beautiful, customized “road ahead” – and Clifford Stoll who saw only snake oil. At the time, it was the most compelling use of the Internet those thinkers thought possible. This concept – that we were to be coddled by a hive brain designed to show us exactly what we needed to know when we needed to know it – continued apace until it was supplanted by the concept of User Generated Content – UGC – a related movement that tore down gatekeepers and all but destroyed propriety in the online world.

That was the arc of Web 2.0: the move from one-to-one conversations in Usenet or IRC and into the global newspaper. Further, this created a million one-to-many conversations targeted at tailor-made audiences of fans, supporters, and, more often, trolls. This change gave us what we have today: a broken prism that refracts humanity into none of the colors except black or white. UGC, that once-great idea that anyone could be as popular as a rock star, fell away to an unmonetizable free-for-all that forced brands and advertisers to rethink how they reached audiences. After all, on a UGC site it’s not a lot of fun for Procter & Gamble to have Downy Fabric Softener advertised next to someone’s racist rant against Muslims in a Starbucks .

Still the Valley took these concepts and built monetized cesspools of self-expression. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are the biggest beneficiaries of outrage culture and the eyeballs brought in by its continuous refreshment feed their further growth. These sites are Web 2.0 at its darkest epitome, a quiver of arrows that strikes at our deepest, most cherished institutions and bleeds us of kindness and forethought.

So when advertisers faced either the direct monetization of random hate speech or the erosion of customer privacy, they choose the latter. Facebook created lookalike audiences that let advertisers sell to a certain subset of humanity on a deeply granular level, a move that delivered us the same shoe advertisement constantly, from site to site, until we were all sure we had gone mad. In the guise of saving our sanity further we invited always-on microphones into our homes that could watch our listening and browsing habits and sell to us against them. We gave up our very DNA to companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, a decision that mankind may soon regret. We shared everything with everyone in the grand hope that our evolution into homo ligarus – the networked man – would lead us to become homo deus.

This didn’t happen.

And so the pendulum swings back. The GDPR, as toothless as it is, is a wake up call to every spammer that ever slammed your email or followed you around the web. Further, Apple’s upcoming cookie control software in Safari should make those omnipresent ads disappear, forcing the advertiser to sell to an undifferentiated mob rather than a single person. This is obviously cold comfort in an era defined by both the reification of the Internet as a font for all knowledge (correct or incorrect) and the genesis of an web-based political cobra that whips back to bite its handlers with regularity. But it’s a start.

We are currently in an interstitial period of technology, a cake baked of the hearty camaraderie and “Fuck the system” punk rock Gen X but frosted with millennial pragmatism and desire for the artisanal. As we move out of the era of UGC and Web 2.0 we will see the old ways cast aside, the old models broken, and the old invasions of privacy inverted. While I won’t go as far to say that blockchain will save us all, pervasive encryption and full data control will pave the way toward true control of our personal lives as well as the beginnings of a research-based minimum income. We should be able to sell our opinions, our thoughts, and even our DNA to the highest bidder and once the rapacious Web 2.0 vultures are all shooed away, we will find ourselves in an interesting new world.

As a technoutopianist I’m sure that were are heading in the right direction. We are, however, taking turns that none of us could have imagined in the era of Clinton and the fax machine and there are still more turns to come. Luckily, however, we are coming out of our last major skid.

 

Photo by George Fitzmaurice on Unsplash

Pinterest gives advertisers a way to show promoted videos that take up the screen

Pinterest is continuing its push into video as a potential avenue for advertisers by today saying that it will offer advertisers a promoted video tool that takes up the width of the entire screen.

While Pinterest normally offers users a grid that they can flip through — compressing a lot of content into a small space — taking up the full width of the screen with a promoted video would offer advertisers considerable real estate if they’re looking to get the attention of users. Pinterest pitches itself to advertisers as a strong alternative to Facebook or Google, giving marketers a way to reach an audience that behaves a little more differently than when on those other platforms and coming to Pinterest to discover new things.

The company also said it’s hired Tina Pukonen as an entertainment strategist and Mike Chuthakieo as an industry sales lead. Pinterest says more than 42 million people in the U.S. come to Pinterest for entertainment ideas, and that potential tool offers an interesting niche opportunity for advertisers to capture the attention of a user for a product — say, a movie — that needs a lot of awareness marketing. Getting a user’s attention for just a few seconds can be more than enough time to at least plant the seed of potentially buying a product down the line.

It’s that argument that what gives Pinterest potential value for advertisers. The company offers an array of advertising products designed to target users at all phases of a potential buying cycle, whether that’s just clicking around on the platform looking for ideas down to actually saving an idea or buying it — through Pinterest or through a referral. Most of Pinterest’s content consists of images and other content from brands or businesses. That makes sense given that it’s a place where people tend to go to plan life events, whether that’s parties, or weddings, or home improvement — and those events center around products that they may in theory one day buy. All the while Pinterest is accumulating a lot of different plays at advertising products and an experienced level of senior hires, including hiring its first COO Françoise Brougher, who was the former VP of SMB global sales and operations at Google and business lead at Square.

Pinterest, interestingly, seems to have been a little more tolerant of making what might seem like small design changes but may have substantial user implications. The company added a tab for followers at the bottom of the app, shaking up what is often seen as a core navigation bar for any app. But the company continues to grow, crossing 200 million monthly active users in September last year.

Twitter May Introduce An Algorithmic Timeline And People Are Losing Their Minds

twitter-down Remember Twitter? Or, at least, that would seem to be the sentiment from parts of Twitter that are now shocked that the company is considering switching to an algorithmic timeline, according to a BuzzFeed report. Everyone panic! This changes everything! Twitter will never be the same. #RIPTwitter. There’s even a top trending hashtag for it. Update: CEO Jack Dorsey said in a… Read More

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