November 8, 2017 By Zak Mehan
Late yesterday social media managers panicked as Twitter announced that all of its users (except those who use Twitter in Korean, Japanese or Chinese languages) would now have 280 characters with which to tweet. Some users were ecstatic. Others put the character count to use to demonstrate the stories waiting to be told. And some just really didn’t appreciate it.
Professional sports in the United States were once an excuse for gratuitous face paint, drinking light beer in parking lots and shouting expletives at your TV. Not so much anymore.
Sports network ESPN came under fire after Jemele Hill, an anchor on popular sports talk show “Sports Center”, took to Twitter to lambaste President Trump. She then jumped back on to support NFL players protesting racial inequality, encouraging viewers to boycott companies advertising with teams that spoke out against the protests. Her employers were less than enthused.
ESPN has since released updated social media guidelines for employees. One of the most significant rules is that employees should check with senior management before posting anything related to social or political issues. A little draconian, perhaps, but a big step in trying to secure the overall brand. While every person, organization or company seems to be assessed against their political leanings, this is ESPN’s way to turn down the heat.
We saw similar measures taken by The New York Times, advising employees not to tweet anything they wouldn’t publish officially in the Times – e.g. no partisan side-taking, individual opinions or unsubstantiated claims. As our UK colleagues rightly point out, especially where media companies are concerned, we see a tough balancing act between protecting brand integrity and limiting the personalities that contribute to loyal viewers and followers.
The day following tech companies’ insistence to congressional representatives that they are not media companies and should not be regulated as such, Pew Research released findings that a little under half (45%) of US adults use Facebook for news. A little over a quarter of US adults get news from at least two or more social media sites. That’s somewhere in the ballpark of 112.3 million reasons to care about the spread of fake news on Facebook alone.
But regular citizens aren’t the only ones getting duped by phony headlines or commentary. The Washington Post, Miami Herald, BuzzFeed and Vox (among others) have all cited social media posts – mostly tweets – from accounts linked to the Russian government. Numerous accounts corresponding to politicians have been scrutinized since the 2016 election for liking or sharing content from users that either turned out to be bot accounts or had previously espoused unsavory or controversial perspectives.
This highlights the treacherous ground that companies face when trying to engage in ongoing conversations online. While we advocate for companies to be “truly social”, directly engaging with stakeholders on social media platforms, this should be done with extraordinary care. Fortunately, tech companies are taking up the mantle, with efforts like Facebook’s provision of alternative sources for headlines and Botcheck.me, a tool that assesses Twitter users for bot-like behavior. These solutions are steps in the right direction but expect many more changes to come.
Surprising stat of the week: despite the widespread furor over fake news and increasing numbers of American adults saying they get news from social media sites (see above), most them (62%) don’t think they should be regulated as if they were media companies.
The number comes from an Axios/SurveyMonkey poll gauging the outcome of the technological hearings last week (our broad thoughts here, ICYMI). According to the poll, both the congressional questioners and tech companies were tarnished by the exchanges.
Importantly, and perhaps in support of our supposition that we’re still well away from seeing meaningful regulation on these companies, more Americans came away from the hearings fearing the government would over-regulate the companies as a result. And while 34% of respondents who paid some attention to the hearings said they thought worse of the way the companies are handling foreign election intervention, the majority of respondents (although narrowed after the hearings) still believe that social media helps democracy and free speech.
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BuzzFeed made a game that’s somewhere between Cards Against Humanity and Truth or Dare. It’s a little weird and not everybody is happy about it.