On Being Verified

Interesting how a tiny blue check mark can make people take you more seriously.

I'm Verfied
That tiny blue checkmark means I’m really who I say I am. (The helicopter is an emoji and appears in red everywhere except my profile page when I’m logged in on my Mac. Go figure, huh?)

About a month ago, I requested that my Twitter account be “verified.” It was the second time I’d made the request — the first time was at least five years ago, not long after verification began — and although I’d been turned down the first time, I was verified the second. I got the coveted blue checkmark beside my name.

The skinny on verification

Verified Twitter accounts are those accounts that Twitter has verified as belonging to the person whose name appears on the account. This is so that people looking for the real account in question know they’ve found it.

To get verified status, you need to be somewhat “famous” or at least publicly known for something. I’m known for a few things: I wrote computer how-to books for more than 20 years, I’ve owned a helicopter charter business for more than 15 years, I’ve been blogging for more than 13 years, I’ve been recording video training courses for more than 10 years (including several about Twitter), and I currently write articles for a variety of aviation publications. When I filled in the forms online and submitted the documents to prove that I really was who I said I was and that I was worthy of verification, the folks at Twitter apparently agreed. Without any fanfare, the blue checkmark appeared on my Profile page.

I actually noticed a side effect to verification before I noticed the checkmark: literally overnight, I gained about 100 followers. That was weird.

The benefits of the blue checkmark

Being verified gives you some additional benefits the average Twitter user just doesn’t have.

Twitter Stats
As amazing as it seems to me, during this particular 24-hour period, my tweets were displayed 123,514 times.

First of all, you get a bit more respect. Is it possible that I’m seeing fewer trolls? It sure seems that way. (Of course, I do block all the trolls I encounter, so I don’t see repeat offenders.)

Next, it gets your tweets more attention. People are more likely to read a tweet when the account it came from is verified. I’m seeing that in my stats. My tweets are getting seen, retweeted, and liked more than ever.

My most popular tweet
This tweet, which I shot out in response to Donald Trump’s whining about protesters (see below for embedded tweet), has become immensely popular.

Of course, I like to think that this particular tweet has become so popular because it’s so witty. Honestly who knows? (And who cares?)

Twitter also gives verified users additional tools for monitoring notifications. An additional tab appears on my notifications page so I can view a list of All, Mentions, and Verified. The Verified option shows me only notifications from other verified accounts. I can imagine this being extremely useful for truly famous people who want to weed out the mere mortals. Personally, I don’t use it much, although a surprising number of other verified users do interact with my tweets. I have to wonder if that’s because I’m verified, too.

Behavioral changes

Has being verified changed the way I use Twitter? Possibly.

First of all, I don’t think I tweet any more or less than I have during the more than nine years I’ve been using Twitter. I currently average 10 to 20 tweets a day, with a total of about 61,600 total tweets since March 2007.

That said, I’m definitely more cognizant that the things I tweet may be seen by far more people. Although I’m usually very careful about what I post online — I’m not an idiot, like a certain small-handed, thin orange skinned president-elect who can’t seem to keep his tweet hole shut, thus exposing his fragile narcissistic ego to the world — I do think twice about how what I tweet might affect my brand.

Yes, I did say “brand.” That’s because being a verified Twitter user helps establish your name (or account name) as a brand. I already had a brand that was relatively strong in the early 2000s. Who knows? It might become strong again. I don’t want to tweet anything that can hurt it.

What do you think?

Does the verified badge on a Twitter account affect the way you follow or interact with that account?

Are you a verified Twitter user? Have you noticed a difference in the way Twitter works for you?

I’m curious. Use the comment link form to share your thoughts about this.

And please — let’s not go off on tangents about the election. Haven’t you had enough of that in the news? I sure have.

Online Advertising Blues

Or how to lose half a day in front of a computer.

I am the owner of a small business, Flying M Air, LLC. I do just about everything for the company except maintain the aircraft: schedule flights, preflight the aircraft, fly, take payment from passengers, manage the drug testing program, work with the FAA, meet with clients, negotiate contracts, arrange for special events, hire contract workers, record transactions, handle invoicing and receivables, pay bills, create print marketing materials like business cards and rack cards, etc. I also handle the online presence for the company, including the company website, Facebook, and Twitter.

(You might wonder how I have the skills to do all this stuff. The truth is, I have a BBA in Accounting and lots of business training from college. I also wrote books about computers for 20+ years, including several about building websites and using Twitter. Sadly I never studied helicopter repair.)

Today, I lost half a day to marketing and related online chores that were mind-bogglingly time consuming.

You see, I scheduled an event with a local resort, Cave B Estate Winery & Resort in Quincy, WA. Cave B is one of the destinations I take people on winery tours, although I admit I don’t go there very often. For the same price, folks can go to Tsillan Cellars in Chelan, which they seem to prefer. Cave B has a better restaurant and a more interesting atmosphere in a beautiful place. Tsillan Cellars is also in a beautiful place, but it’s a bit touristy for my taste. I actually don’t care which one I fly to since I can’t drink wine at either one. I just like to fly people to wineries.

But the new manager at Cave B Resort is very eager to get the helicopter onsite as an interesting activity for guests. So we set up a 6-hour event there for Saturday, July 2. I’d land in the field as I usually do and offer 15-minute helicopter tours of the area for $75/person. While that might seem kind of steep, it’s pretty much in line with my usual rates. Besides, the folks who stay at Cave B aren’t exactly cheapskates. (I just looked into booking a room for my upcoming birthday and decided that it was a bit too rich for my blood, at least this year. I think I’ll settle for a spa day.)

Setting up this event required me to complete a bunch of tasks on my computer:

  • Tour Flyer
    I threw together this flyer based on a template in Microsoft Word.

    Create a flyer in PDF format that could be used at the resort to let guests know that tours were available that day. I cheated: I used one of the Templates that came with Word 2011 (which I’m still using on my Mac). I already had pictures; I just had to put in the text and make it fit. It took about 30 minutes to complete and I had to make one change after sending it to Cave B’s manager. They’ll print it out on a color printer and, hopefully, put one in each room on Friday.

  • Use Square‘s item feature to set up an item for the tours so I could easily charge passengers for the flights and sell them online. I’ve been experimenting with online sales lately as a tool to get impulse buyers to buy in advance in certain predetermined time slots. So setting up the item also required me to set up the time slots and then create an inventory feature to prevent me from overselling a time slot. This took another 30 minutes or so. This had to be done before I finished the flyer so I could include the URL in the flyer.
  • Use bit.ly to create a custom short URL for Flying M Air’s online store. No one could remember the regular URL; maybe they can remember bitly.com/FlyingMAir. This took about 5 minutes. Of course, this also had to be done before the flyer was done so the URL could be included.
  • Tour Announcement
    Here’s the top part of the web page I created to announce the special event.

    Create a “blog post” on Flying M Air’s website (which was built with the WordPress CMS) to announce the event, provide details, and include the link for buying tickets. Once the post was published, I had to go back and add a featured image so it would appear in the slideshow of items at the top of the Home page. I also had to add an expiration date so that it would stop appearing as a “special” on the site after July 2 at 5 PM. Doing all this took at least another 30 minutes. My WordPress site is designed to automatically post a link to new items on Twitter for both Flying M Air and my own personal account, so at least I didn’t have to fiddle with Twitter.

  • Create a new event on Facebook for the Cave B Tours. That meant using pretty much the same photo, description, and link I’d put in the flyer in a Facebook form. Because Facebook requires a “Category” for each event and they’re not very creative with the category names, there’s now a “Festival” at Cave B that day. (Sheesh.) This took at least another 20 minutes.
  • Share the event with my friends on Facebook. Why not, right? Five minutes.
  • Post details on Cave B’s Facebook page for the event. I got lazy and put in a screen shot of the flyer. 5 minutes.
  • When I realized that I could probably sell the flight to and from Cave B that I’d have to deadhead for the event, I created a “Be Spontaneous” special offer on Flying M Air’s website, offering up the roundtrip flight for half price: $272.50. That’s less than my cost and a real smoking deal for anyone who wants two great helicopter flights and six hours at Cave B. (I’m thinking lunch, tasting, and a hike.) This took about 30 minutes.
  • I also had to set up an item in Square for this offer so I could make it easy to charge for or sell it online. No special URL was required, but I did have to put the link to the item in Flying M Air’s online store in the special offer post. Twenty minutes.
  • While I was fiddling with my website, I checked the Special Offers category and discovered a whole bunch of expired offers. So I recategorized them as Expired Offers. Then I spent some time adding a subscription form to the Special Offers page and made sure that page appeared in the slider at the top of the Home page. Anyone who subscribes automatically gets new posts by email; this is a great way to learn about special offers as they become available. I know I spent at least an hour on this.

Of course, while I was working on this, I was also taking calls from a potential client (in the U.K., of all places), texting back and forth with photographers that could help me close a deal with her, and writing reminders for the other things I needed to do at my desk: order wall mount display cabinets from Ikea, choose a garage door opener option (after researching the three options), and send out invitations for a outing on my boat the next day. So I wasn’t 100% focused on the tasks at hand.

I was only mildly surprised when I looked up after that last task and saw that it was after 1 PM.

The whole morning was shot. (No wonder I was hungry.)

But this is typical when I sit in front of my computer — and is why I spend a lot less time in front of my computer these days. Business tasks need to be done and I’m the one that has to do them. It’s a fact of life and I’m not complaining. Just trying to point out that marketing a business isn’t as easy as putting up a website and waiting for the phone to ring — especially with so much social media to deal with.

Nine Years on Twitter

Twitter LogoAn unexpected anniversary.

This week marks the 10 year anniversary of the social networking site, Twitter. It’s been getting a lot of press and there are a lot of tweets from Twitter highlighting events throughout its history. I read through a bunch of them yesterday and remembered more than a few.

That got me thinking of how long I’d been on Twitter. I went to my profile page, and saw that I opened my account in March 2007. Almost exactly nine years. But what day in March? Had I missed my anniversary?

I Googled “Twitter anniversary date” and discovered Twitter Birthday, a site that exists solely to tell you when a twitter account was opened. I put in my user name. And I discovered that my account was opened on March 20, 2007. Exactly nine years before.

Twitter Birth Certificate
My Twitter “birth certificate,” retrieved exactly nine years after my account was opened.

Over the past nine years, I’ve been very active on Twitter, posting more than 57,000 tweets. I’ve formed good friendships with many people from all over the world that I’ve met on Twitter, including Andy Piper (the first person I ever followed, who now works for Twitter), Miraz Jordan, Ruth Kneale, Barbara Gavin, Shirley Kaiser, Michael T. Rose, Mike Muench, Esther Schindler, Jonathan Bailey, Chuck Joiner, Mike Meraz, Greg Glockner, Daniel Messier, Bob Levine, Ann Torrence, Bryan William Jones, Patty Hankins, April Mains, Debbie Ripps, Pam Baker, Terry Austin, Kirschen Seah, Jodene, Amanda Sargent, Ryan Keough, Steven Pass, Bill Evans, Derek Colanduno, Derek Bartholomaus, Bonnie Pruitt, Arlene Wszalek, Marvyn Robinson, and others.

I’ve met several of these “virtual friends” in person, including Andy (who lives in the U.K.), Shirley (California), Esther (Arizona), Mike Muench (Florida), Mike Meraz (California), Daniel (Arizona), Ann (Utah), Bryan (Utah), Patty (Maryland), Terry (Texas).

Barbara (Massachusetts) and Jodene (Washington) have gone on helicopter rides with me and Amanda (Washington/Louisiana) has actually flown my helicopter in Washington while I was tending to some divorce-related business in Arizona.

I wrote a book with Miraz (New Zealand) and was interviewed once by Marvyn (U.K.) for his Inspired Pilot podcast and multiple times by Chuck (New Jersey) for his MacVoices video podcast.

I’ve also used Twitter to keep in touch with people I already knew from my personal and business life. And organizations that tweet information that interests me. Those lists are too long to recite here.

Twitter has changed my life in another important way, too. In 2009, I authored and recorded the first of several video courses about Twitter for Lynda.com. This turned out to be a real contributor to my income with impressive royalties year after year as the course was regularly revised. (Sadly, I no longer do this course for Lynda and can’t recommend the current version.)

I blogged about Twitter and my relationship to it. My very first post about Twitter concerned then presidential candidate John Edwards using Twitter way back in 2007 to attract voters. That’s not a big deal today, but it was huge back then. Another post from 2007 titled “Reach Out and Meet Someone” covered my thoughts on social media and meeting people online. I felt as if I needed to explain it — it was that new. I also blogged “Four Steps to Get the Most Out of Twitter,” which, nine years later, is still valid. You can read more of my posts about Twitter by following the Twitter tag.

Nine years after joining Twitter, I’m as enthusiastic about it as ever. While it’s true that I’m not thrilled about some of the changes I’ve seen — notably the preponderance of “promoted tweets,” the Moments feature, and the algorithm now used (by default!) to sort your timeline — Twitter has remained unique enough to make it an important component of my social networking efforts. It’s still my “water cooler,” the place I turn to get social when I need a break from my daily activities.

While I lot of people just “don’t get” Twitter, I’m pretty sure that I do. And I expect to be using it for a long time to come.

More Facebook Creepiness

Do they have no respect at all for a person’s privacy?

About every tenth time I connect to Facebook on my desktop computer, Facebook asks me for my cell phone number. They say it’s to protect my account — and there might be something to that, for all I know — but do they think my Facebook account is so valuable to me that I’m willing to hand off my phone number to an organization that apparently sells just about any information I give it?

Today took things to a new level. I was using the Facebook app in bed. This is part of my morning routine: I wake up so early that it’s simply too early to get out of bed. So I kill some time with Facebook and Twitter on my iPad. (I recently deleted both apps from my iPhone because of this.) Two creepy things happened:

  • As I scrolled through my timeline, Facebook displayed an Amazon ad for everyday silverware that showed several plain styles. The top of the ad assured me that two of my friends liked Amazon. What was creepy was that I’d used the Amazon app on my phone the previous day while looking at silverware in Fred Meyer to determine whether the prices were reasonable. This could not be a coincidence. How did Facebook know? I thought I’d had my privacy settings buttoned down tightly enough, but apparently I didn’t.
  • As part of a chat with a friend in the Twitter app, I used the Safari browser to visit Amazon’s UK website and find a link to a weather station I own. I pasted that link into a tweet. Moments later, when I went back to the Facebook app, Facebook asked me if I wanted to share the link to the weather station — it displayed not only the full link, but the Amazon preview that went with it — on my timeline. That meant the Facebook app was reading and interpreting what I’d copied in another app.

To say I felt dirty is an understatement. Facebook is poking around in my data in places it has no right to be.

On my iPad, I cleared out all Safari cookies and data. I checked settings to make sure I hadn’t missed any sharing settings — I hadn’t. I checked the Facebook app to make sure it wasn’t authorized to talk to the Amazon app — it wasn’t. And then I went to my computer and dug into my settings in Facebook to see what I’d missed.

Ad Preferences
Facebook admits it’s going to get creepy by monitoring “actions you take on Facebook and websites and apps you use off Facebook.” WTF?

Facebook’s settings is a rathole of options, the most important of which are buried so deep that they’re nearly impossible to find. Not only that, but it seems that they periodically change how you access certain settings to make them difficult to re-find in the future.

The one thing I did find was Ad Preferences. This screen lets you add or remove items you’re interested in. The creepy part? The list already includes hundreds of preferences based on things you’ve looked at, commented, liked, or otherwise shown an interest in.

Ad Preferences
Here’s a partial list of the interests Facebook has collected based on my actions. Some of them are completely off the wall: Harley Davison? Electric guitar? Gold’s Gym? Michigan State University?

I have to individually click each item to remove it from the list. This is a long and tedious process, made even more time-consuming by the need to click See More after each dozen or so items. There were well over 700 items on my list. And clicking a tiny X that only appears when you point where it should be just removes the items from this screen — I’m sure Facebook is keeping its own private list somewhere I can’t modify it.

How can I not sound paranoid?

My Twitter/Facebook friend Pam Baker writes about Big Data. I aways thought to myself, what’s the big deal? How much info could they possibly have about me?

Now I’m beginning to get an idea.

This makes it all the more important for me to use privacy settings. Quite frankly, it’s none of Facebook’s fucking business what I like or do when I’m not using Facebook. And even then, it’s creepy that they’re keeping track of it all.

Will this be the straw that gets me off Facebook? I can only hope.

On Social Media Addiction

I’ve known for a while; now what am I going to do about it?

The other day, one of my Facebook friends, Lynda Weinman, shared an article from the New York Times titled “Addicted to Distraction” by Tony Schwartz. It began with the following paragraph:

ONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.

The author had just described a condition I’d been suffering with for at least a year — the inability to stay focused on something for more than a short while.

The author of this piece blames his problem on being connected to the Internet all the time. In his case, the problem is primarily email, although, like me, he also finds himself compulsively Googling for answers to questions that pop up in conversation or or his mind. From there, he says it’s difficult to “resist surfing myself into a stupor.” Sound familiar?

My problem is not email. In fact, email is such a nuisance these days that I don’t even bother checking it every day. I figure that if something is important, I’ll get a phone call or text. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen. But as I type this, my Inbox has 2215 messages, 92 of which are unread. Obviously, the best way to contact me is not by email.

So if email isn’t distracting me, what is? Social media, of course.

I’ve been active on social media since 2007, when I joined Twitter. I embraced Twitter and made many “virtual friends” there, many of whom have become real friends who I’ve met in the flesh and shared meals with. I follow a select group of people who tend to post interesting things that entertain or educate me. As someone who worked alone all day — I wrote for a living back then — I considered Twitter my “water cooler,” the place I went when I needed a break from my work and wanted social interaction.

Then came Facebook and LinkedIn and Google+. I grew to dislike all of them pretty quickly. Facebook was social networking for the masses, where people lazily shared image-based memes spread around by sites looking for clicks. So many of these people were real-world friends and it was disappointing to see that they didn’t have anything better — or even more personal — to share. On LinkedIn, I was approached more frequently by spammers trying to sell me goods or services than anyone interested in a mutually beneficial, friendly relationship. And Google+ never really got off the ground so I stopped using it pretty quickly. A visit to my account there shows I have more than 700 followers there and I still can’t understand why when there’s nothing in my account to follow.

Still, Facebook sucked me in and continues to do so on a daily basis. I think it’s the potential for conversation that attracts me. Again, I live and work alone and it’s a place for social interaction during my day. I’ve stopped following the folks who have nothing interesting to share, as well as the folks who share hate-filled political messages. What’s left is a handful of people I like, posting original content or links to interesting content elsewhere on the Web. Sure, there’s still a bunch of crap in my timeline every time I visit, but I’ve become pretty good at ignoring it.

This wouldn’t be so bad if I visited Twitter and Facebook occasionally, as I did when I first began using them. But I don’t. I’m on and off both services all day long. I start not long after waking, when I’m lying in bed waiting for the clock to tick to a more reasonable time to get up. (I wake up very early some mornings and would prefer staying in bed until at least 5 AM.) Then, if I have a tablet or my phone at breakfast, I check in some more. When I sit at my computer, I’m constantly checking in to see if anything is new and either commenting on someone else’s post or replying to comments on mine. At any idle moment, I’m more likely to reach for my phone to check social media than sit in quiet contemplation.

And then there’s the sharing. Any time I see something I think is interesting or funny, I take a picture of it and share it on Twitter or Facebook or both. And, while I’m sharing on Facebook, I usually check to see what’s new and spend time reading, commenting, and following links.

Both Twitter and Facebook have become tools for “surfing myself into a stupor.” Although I’m pretty good at resisting link bait — think headlines like “Shocking new photos reveal that Princess Charlotte is very cute” (Mashable) and “Adorable baby goat learns how to hop by copying its human friend” (Mashable), and “Soda-loving bear, ‘the dress’ among the weirdest stories of 2015 (USAToday) — I do enjoy (and learn from) reading articles about science, psychology, and history (to name a few). After all, that’s how I found the Times article that triggered this post. And a great article this morning titled “12 bad reasons for rejecting scientific studies” on a site I’d never heard of before, The Logic of Science. And countless other extremely informative, thoughtful pieces. So I do learn and grow from things I find in social media. That’s good, right?

Yes and no, but mostly no right now. I don’t need to be checking in all day long to reap the benefits of social media. I can limit my access to an hour or so a day. I can use my browser’s “read later” feature to accumulate articles to read when I’m not on social media. It’s not going to kill me to miss a friend’s update or a link to something of interest or value to me.

There’s only so much information I can squeeze into my head. As the author of the Times piece says,

Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.

Some people will argue that this isn’t true. That your brain isn’t like a hard disk that can be filled up. But I definitely believe there’s at least some truth in this.

But it’s the distraction that bothers me most. The inability to just sit down and read a book or magazine without my mind wandering away to something else. Or feeling a need to share something I just thought of with friends. My inability to stay focused when I want or need to sit down and read or write.

Facebook Update
I was in the middle of writing this blog post when I stopped suddenly, went online, and posted this update. 27 minutes later, am I gratified to see that a stranger liked it? What does that mean?

This blog post is an excellent example. I’m only 2/3 finished with it and I’ve already left it several times to check Facebook. Although once was to get the link to the Logic of Science article above (which really is good), I did post comments and even send an update that has nothing to do with this blog post. (Yes, my mind wandered to my driveway and the scant amount of snow left on it by yesterday’s all-day flurry event.) Social media has become a tool for procrastination, more insidious than a television because it’s with me all the time.

Ironically, when I first started writing this blog post, I looked back through older posts for one I’d written about sharing image-based text memes on Facebook. I didn’t find that one because while I was looking I found one far more appropriate to share. Written in October 2007 — yes, eight years ago! — “Is Social Networking Sucking Your Life Away?” is a foreshadowing of what was to come. Clearly I realized way back then that social networking was a time suck. Back then, I couldn’t understand why or how others could let their time be wasted in such trivial pursuits. But now here I am, with the same problem I couldn’t understand.

Now I understand it.

Back in January 2015, I wrote a blog post titled “2015 Resolutions.” The very first one on my list was to “Fight the Social Media Addiction.” I realized then that I had a problem and even came up with a workable solution to fight it: place limits on social media time and updates. Did I do this? Maybe for a few weeks.

(The only one of those resolutions I kept was to stay out of Starbucks; it’s been almost a year without Starbucks and I’m quite pleased with myself.)

Clearly, I need to try harder.

I read the comments on the Facebook post where Lynda shared the link to the Times piece. One of Lynda’s friends said, “I was a better person and a better artist before the iPhone.” I added:

I was a better writer before Facebook.

He could have been describing me here. I struggle to read now. Can’t stay focused. Reread the same paragraphs over and over. Constantly checking social media and following links to articles I shouldn’t care about. I knew I had a problem last year when I tried to include a limit in my New Years resolutions. I lasted less than two weeks.

I’ll try again. This time, I’ll take social media off my phone. And I’ll put a post-it note on my computer with one question to remind me: “What are you doing?”

Thanks for sharing this. It was a good read — and a good reminder.

What are you doing?
Maybe this will help remind me to stay focused while I’m using my computer?

Are you addicted to social media? Think about it and beware of denial. The first step to fighting an addiction is to admitting that it’s real.

Read the Times article for yourself and see what you come away with.

Twitter vs. Facebook: Ferguson Edition

It’s exactly what others predicted and I expected.

Last night, I was relaxing with a glass of wine, watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider on my big TV, when I happened to check Twitter to see what was new. The Grand Jury had just handed down its decision in the Michael Brown case: They were not going to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him. There would be no trial, no punishment for the man who shot and killed an unarmed teenager.

On Twitter

The first Ferguson-related tweet I saw last night.

The first inkling I had of this came in a retweet made by a friend that was timestamped 8:06 PM (Pacific).

I already knew deep down inside what the Jury’s verdict would be. I think we all did when we saw how Ferguson was preparing before releasing the news.

I scrolled backwards through my Twitter timeline and saw dozens of tweets, many of them with photos of the rioting going on in Ferguson: looting, burning cars — including police cars and businesses, tear gas smoke, national guard deployments. The situation in Ferguson had gone to hell quickly, fueled by anger and frustration. In other cities — Washington DC, New York, Seattle, Oakland — protesters were gathering. Journalists out in the crowds reported dealing with close calls, injuries, and thefts. Meanwhile, bits and pieces of the documents related to the case appeared in tweets with commentary. The President’s speech, which I also missed, was quoted a handful of times.

I only follow 193 Twitter accounts — many of which are product-related or not very active — and my timeline was packed with a never-ending stream of #Ferguson tweets, many of which were retweeted by NPR News. When I scrolled back to the most recent tweets, each time I refreshed another few tweets about Ferguson would appear. Intermingled with those were non-related tweets; more on that in a moment.

I turned off Lara Croft (who was enjoying a luxuriant bath after successfully destroying a robot in her own home) and tried to pick up “antenna TV.” No joy. (Note to self: get a decent antenna for the TV.)

On Facebook

I went to Facebook. It was like stepping into another world. Only one of my Facebook friends — a woman who lives in St. Louis — was posting updates related to Ferguson. The same updates appeared in her Twitter stream on my Timeline. On Facebook, however, she was the only voice talking about Ferguson among a stream of people sharing cat videos and blown out HDR photos and lists of Top 10 Spelling Peeves and links to link bait content.

Were these two social networks operating on the same planet?

Content Filtering

This tweet appeared in the NPR article; it summarizes exactly what I observed last night.

The difference between Twitter and Facebook feeds did not really surprise me. Only hours before, I’d shared a link (on Facebook, ironically) to an NPR article titled “Silicon Valley’s Power Over The Free Press: Why It Matters.” The article discussed how the media has lost control of distribution by allowing social networks to fill a void they left by initially ignoring social media as a distribution method. The danger to the public is that social networks have the power to control what you see in your social network. Nowhere is that more apparent than when comparing Twitter, which doesn’t (currently) filter timelines, and Facebook, which does.

From the article:

Algorithms and protocols that run social platforms affect discourse, and the engineers behind those protocols don’t have to think about journalism or democratic responsibility in how news is created and disseminated.

A prime example of this is the first nights of the protests in Ferguson, Mo. If you were on Twitter, you saw an endless stream of protest photos and links. If you were on Facebook, you saw nearly nothing. All because engineers decide what news you see.

We already know that Facebook has manipulated our timelines in an experiment about emotions. Clearly, they’re also manipulating our timelines to filter news about specific topics. Does anyone actually think this is a good idea?

Back to Twitter

This tweet promoting Wenatchee appeared in the middle of a long string of tweets about burning cars, vandalism, and an injured journalist. The first word I think of when I see this tweet in that context: uncaring.

One of the things I noticed — and I have to admit that it bothered me — was that among all the horrific news and photos coming out of Ferguson there were cheerful tweets — many of them “promoted” (i.e., ads) — pushing products or websites or Twitter accounts. They revealed social media marketing efforts for what they are: a completely detached, automated scheduling of advertisements aimed at whoever follows the Twitter account.

I wasn’t the only person to notice the problem with scheduled tweets.

I wasn’t the only person to notice this. One of my friends retweeted a comment by another observant Twitter user who advised social media workers to check scheduled tweets. Did any of them do so? Who knows.

A U.K. Twitter user doesn’t think too highly of what’s going on here.

I fell asleep a while later, but woke up around 1 AM (as I sometimes do) and decided to check in on the Ferguson situation on Twitter, which seemed to be my best source. I think it was 3 AM back there and things were settling down. Many of the protesters had gone home. The U.K. was awake — I follow several people who live over there — tweeting about U.K. things. The few tweets about what was going on over here were not complementary. The world apparently sees the U.S. as a hotbed of racism.

Racism
Jim Henson is probably rolling in his grave.

And maybe it is. This morning, I was horrified to find an update, 10 hours old, with the image here at the top of my Facebook newsfeed. There were 11 likes. Needless to say, I don’t follow the updates of the person who posted it anymore — and am actually ashamed that he’s one of my real-life friends.

Dead People on Facebook

Why do we remain friends?

Today is Doug’s birthday. He would have been 53. My age.

But he’s not, because he’s dead. He died last year, in the spring. His last post on Facebook is dated April 13, 2013. Three days later, he was dead.

Birthday
Happy birthday, Doug.

I know all this because Doug’s Facebook account is still online. I can see his last post and the things he posted before that. He was a helicopter pilot with a job and a family and a sense of humor. Like so many people I know on Facebook, I never actually met him in person. He was a friend of a friend of a friend. I still felt sad when I heard that he’d died. And I feel sad when Facebook reminds me about his birthday. And I feel sad when I visit his Facebook page and see the wall posts his friends and family continue to share there.

Doug isn’t my first dead Facebook friend. Ralph is. He was a huge baseball fan. One of his last Facebook updates, dated July 2010, was about being in Boston for one of his daughters’ BU orientation. A month later, he was dead.

And there’s also Michael and Ron and Jim.

Of my 406 Facebook “friends,” at least five of them are dead. I say “at least” because I don’t know how many others who aren’t close friends or simply aren’t active on Facebook have passed away.

For these people, Facebook has become a sort of virtual gravesite, a place where visitors can come and leave comments and photos. A place where they can tell the deceased how much they miss him or just that they were thinking about them.

Or wish them a happy birthday.

Maybe that’s why we stay friends with these dead people? So we feel welcome at their virtual gravesites? So we have a place to pay our respects when we want to?

Or simply so we don’t forget them?

Happy birthday, Doug.