Category Archives: Social Media

“On this day”….

…I pruned my Facebook postings.

One of the things I do each day is I take a moment and pop over to the “On this day” page on Facebook.

I do it for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it is kind of fun to see what was going on in the past. So I take a look over it to see what’s there.

Second, after I look it over, I go through and delete nearly every posting I’ve made there. I delete nearly every posting someone has put on my timeline. And I remove nearly every tag that someone has made of me. I only keep a very, very few postings that are really fun or somehow meaningful to me.

I do this as an exercise in data retention hygiene. There no need to keep all old postings, so I delete them.

Yes, if Facebook or someone wanted to, they could go to backups/archives and restore the posts. But I don’t need to make getting to old posts any easier than it needs to be. If someone really wants to know that I said I was eating a cheese sandwich at 10 AM PDT on Friday September 7, 2007, I’m going to make them work for it.

This points to a best practice we all need to follow in the era of seemingly “always there social media”: pruning. It’s a form of social media decluttering. But it’s also our personal version of the best practice of only keeping essential data for as long as we need to.

It can be hard to do this with social media. In some ways, social media is more like a photo album. But the best photo albums keep the best, most meaningful pictures.

There’s a philosophical piece here too. It’s a daily exercise in not just remembering the past, but remembering to let go of it. It reminds me that everything is transitory. We don’t have forever: it’s important to remember that too.


How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life.

This is a much more personal post than most. But ultimately it relates to social media in a way that I think is appropriate for my work blog.

In the past ten months, I have learned about the deaths of three people that I know through Facebook. Two of them were “friends”, one was a “friend of a friend”, actually of several friends. One of them, a former co-worker, died after a bout with cancer. The other two were former high school classmates, both of whom died of suicide.

In all three cases, I learned about this through Facebook wall postings. Over time, the walls became a place where people exchanged information, memories, paid respects, expressed grief and loss, and in some cases supported one another.

Today, just now, I was on Facebook and the one person I wasn’t friends with was just presented to me as “Someone you may know”.

I’ve said that “social networking is truly social” meaning that it is a true extension of ourselves as social creatures: we have embraced it and extended our social behaviors, both good and bad, to that medium. And nothing drives home that point more than death on Facebook.

The suggestion that I “friend” someone who is now dead, and my other recent experiences around the deaths of people on Facebook led me today to realize that Facebook’s use and importance as part of our social interactions has outstripped some of its capabilities. Put simply, Facebook (or any other social networking site) lacks mechanisms to deal gracefully and thoughtfully with death. From the question of “how do you take control of the Facebook account of a loved one who has died” to keeping the profile alive (pun somewhat intended) but reflecting the fact that the person is deceased, there’s no graceful, easy way to deal with death on Facebook.

It’s not just a technology problem: there are questions around etiquette and customs as well that we as a society have to work out.

But at this point, it’s certainly clear to me that as social networking becomes ever more truly social, it needs to be able to handle not just the good of our social lives, but also the hard things.

Kirk asked in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “[H]ow we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, wouldn’t you say?”

As regards social networking, I believe the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”.

Hacking the Press: What the bogus IE users are dumb story tells us

It is a rare thing to have my background in online security and dealing with “hackers” and my work in PR and communications come together outside of online security and privacy incidents.

But the “Are Internet Explorer (IE) users dumb” story that broke late last week really brings those two worlds together in very interesting, and enlightening ways.

To recap, late last week we saw a spike in stories claiming that a Canadian company had done research that they believed showed a correlation between IE usage and lower IQ scores. They wrote about it on their blog and managed to get broad, mainstream press pickup pretty quickly. This CNN story is a good example of the coverage we saw.

I’m not surprised at how broadly the story went. It had a nice mixture of scientific authority, average-reader comprehensibility, and taps into a pervasive, latent anti-Microsoft sentiment (I should know about that, I dealt with it when working there).

We have found out now that the “study” that formed the lynchpin of this whole story was bogus. How do we know this? Well, the people that make the fake helpfully came clean and admitted it on their site. To add insult to injury to all those reporters who now have to explain why front page and “most viewed” stories on the CNN and BBC sites (among others) were bogus, the folks behind the fake “helpfully” detail five eight reasons why people should have known this was a hoax.

This is hardly the first time people have gotten hoaxes into the news pipeline. But this is one of the more audacious examples I’ve seen. It’s also one of the more egregious failures on the part of the press to detect fraud. And the authors of this “study” listing five reasons we should have known it was fake really begs the question of how something as fake as this could get out there so widely.

First, it looks to me like a variation of what an online security expert, Rob Rosenberger termed “False Authority Syndrome” back in 1997. That is when someone gives an “expert” a degree of authority that they shouldn’t be entitled to. In the case of this issue, the people creating the fake made it plausible enough to seem like they had the authority that they claimed. They borrowed text from legitimate websites, and gave the site enough depth to look like it had been up for a while when looking at it (you could only figure out it was new if you dug into the internet registration records).

Next, the challenges around time pressures in the press arena really come into play. Reporters often don’t have the time to contact other known, credible sources when they’re dealing with an unknown “expert”. In the case of this story, the time element was exacerbated by the natural sensationalism of the piece, the clear simplicity of the message and the catchiness of the narrative. Any reporter and editor worth his or her salt could see this is a story that would have a lot of immediate pick up. And in the age of “viral” sharing, if you don’t get your story out first, your competition will. That makes it even harder to take time to get it right and do deep and thorough checking. In an era of easy updating with corrections, it’s often OK to just go with what you’ve got now to land the eyeballs, and worry about tidying any errors later.

Another piece of this, which the authors may or may not be aware of, is that they posted later in the week when we start to see major news cycles wrapping up in a way that opens up space for late-in-the-week new stories. That the news in the US had been inundated with debt ceiling stories all week also created a pent-up demand for something, anything different. And with the heavy diet of debt ceiling stories that week, a lighter, snarky story like this is a welcome counterbalance for readers.

A final piece of why this happened is perhaps one of the most maddening of all. It happened just ‘cos. I say you can only assess part of the factors that make a story interesting. There’s always a host of unknown and unknowable factors that come together to set in motion a huge story (or fail to and the story disappears without a trace). Everything from the time of day the posting RSS hits, to what reporter is at his or her desk, to if that reporter still has a story to file for that day, all of these and more play a role. Ultimately, I lump all of these unknowns under the title “luck” and accept the reality of that, frustrating though it is.

Taking all this and putting it together: why did this fake story succeed in getting bigger and broader coverage than most legitimate stories? Because it was a well-crafted hoax that told an interesting and amusing story that successfully exploited weaknesses in the press “system” related to time pressures that ultimately got lucky.

Any of you with a background in online security will recognize that I’ve essentially outlined there a successful “hack”. They found vulnerabilities in a system (time pressures and susceptibility to catchy stories), built a good exploit (the hoax) and got lucky.

Unfortunately, those vulnerabilities aren’t going away anytime soon. Which means we may see more of these in the future.

[Updated to reflect that there were eight reasons why the hoax should have been caught and not five as I originally posted. Because, well, I can’t count.]

A Death, A Birth, A Possible Terminal Diagnosis

It’s an interesting 24 hours in the world of social networking with big news related to three big companies that marks them moving to a new stage. Basically, we’re seeing a death, a birth, and a possible terminal diagnosis.

First the death. Kara Swisher is reporting this morning at that News Corp. is selling MySpace. Based on the excellent, detailed story on MySpace over at Bloomberg Businessweek and the fact that  News Corp paid $580 Million in 2005 and is unloading it today for $35 Million, it’s clear that MySpace is following Friendster to the Island of Misfit Social Networking sites.

Next the birth. Google announced yesterday it’s latest attempt at a Facebook killer: Google+. It’s very early, to be sure. But some of the early reviews of it sound that after the failure of Buzz and Wave, the third time may be a charm and Google may have something that will stick around.

Finally, a possible terminal diagnosis: Twitter. Biz Stone announced yesterday that he’s leaving Twitter. On the heels of several other reshufflings and the fact that Stone has been the face of Twitter from the beginning, you have to wonder if this is going to turn out to be Twitter’s “jump the shark” moment.

We’ll see how this all plays out. But it’s been a big day for social networkng.

This just in: Facebook isn’t new and shiny any more…

…and in other news, people get bored eventually.

Last week the blog Inside Facebook reported that Facebook had lost in the neighborhood of 8 million users from the United States, Canada, and other industrialized countries.

Since there, there’s understandably been discussion and analysis about what that means. Blake Snow posted some analysis of this over at CNN talking about some of the reasons why people are dropping Facebook.

It’s an interesting read, and to his credit, Snow isn’t predicting the coming demise of Facebook.

While some might take the declining numbers and anecdotal evidence of people deleting their accounts as the first sign that Facebook has peaked and is starting its decline, I think that evidence tells a different story. I think that evidence tells us that Facebook is becoming better understood, more mature, and more integrated into our lives.

Let me give a personal example (and show I’m old too). When I was six or so in the mid 1970’s, my mother brought home from work an amazing new thing called a “calculator“. I was amazed and played with it for hours, most of the day in fact. But over time, they became more common and more broadly used. And so over time, they became better understood and more integrated into my life. I don’t spend hours playing with calculators like I did that day, but I can’t live without them. Some people though, don’t need them. But I’ll bet they’ve used them at some point in their life because they’re so integrated.

I think the same applies to Facebook (and other social media). We’ve all had time to start figuring out what’s its good for, what it’s not good for, what we like about it, and what we don’t like about it. I may not use it as much as I did before, but where I do use it, I use it more intelligently and meaningfully. It’s more integrated into my life than it was in the early days.

My take on this (and there’s some hints of this in Snow’s article at the end) is that social media has shown its a permanent new addition to our world of communications, just like when the telephone became widely used in the mid-Twentieth century. The demise of Facebook won’t come about because people don’t see a need for it in their lives. The demise of Facebook will come about much like the demise of the old Trimline telephone I used that same day my mother brought me the calculator: because something will better fill its space in our lives, giving us even more capabilities and options.

The Intersection of Design and Downfall

It’s a treat to find someone able to bring a different and informative point of view to a topic that’s essentially being carpet bombed in the media.

Steven Levy has an article over at Wired today that talks about the design of Twitter and how that may have played a role in facilitating the Weiner crisis.

I’ve generally liked Levy’s work in the past and this article is a very insightful one. It combines an interesting story about the decisions behind Twitter when it was built with a story about how those application behaviors have played a role in this crisis. For instance, he talks about the decision to make “following” two one-way decisions rather than a single joint decision.

Well worth a read to better understand Twitter and to understand another aspect of the Weiner crisis.

Of course, you could also pop over to TMZ.COM and get the latest gossipy piece of news in this all: former porn star Ginger Lee talking about how she was encouraged to lie to the press by Representative Weiner.