Things to do instead of feeding your Facebook addiction

Let’s face it, most of us have a very real phone addiction problem these days. More specifically, we are addicted to Facebook. You start reading a new book, or you’re in the middle (middle!) of a riveting chapter, but you find yourself glancing over to read notifications. As that familiar sense of boredom (is that even the word for it?) settles in, so does the next  60ish minutes of endless scrolling. A ‘harmless’ distraction that turns into watching a hedgehog sneeze. 100 memes later.

Scroll, scroll, scroll…the first step is acceptance. We might have a problem, and now we need to take back control of our lives. It’s not that social media is inherently evil—it’s how we choose to indulge in it and what we choose to expose ourselves to.

When and why do we need to curb our addictions?

The first real sign is its effect on your behavior— do you use your phone as a crutch for antisocial tendencies and to mask your anxiety? Sure it’s an easy way out. But imagine if you took a drug that did the same as the smartphone does—makes you stare at your hand for hours and obstructs real human interaction—wouldn’t you avoid it? Higher rates of suicidal tendencies, depression, and anxiety have been linked to constant exposure to the highlights of other people’s lives via social media by many studies. Know your own symptoms. Recognize that you feel worse after seeing facades of Instagram perfect lives.

How can it be healthy to watch video after video of happy people, girls setting unreal standards on how to look so pretty in makeup tutorials, boys getting gains fast and debonair clothing. The promise sold to us is, when you do your makeup and muscles like them, you will feel happier. This is how you unconsciously fall into the trap of fixating on “what you don’t have”. The solution to happiness is a click away. A link away from being beautiful. Or to shop. Or to constantly travel in dream destinations looking picture-perfect.

The Likes and Followers Trap

Facebook exposed photos

Have you ever posted a picture of Instagram, and refreshed the page every couple of minutes to see if it’s got more likes? If so, you are not alone. The day-to-day obsessions and concern around the ‘success’ of each of our social media statuses have become the norm. The photos we post are only the ones we think are best, that too according to social media’s standards. We project the ones where we look the fairest, the thinnest, our thighs are apart, our muscles look the most pronounced and we look the most popular.

We feel like we need to prove our lives to other people and that’s how we can validate ourselves. When you base your self-worth on the number of likes and followers, you are trapped in a vicious cycle? The actual pursuit of happiness is replaced by this sort of endless and addictive rut of low self-esteem and disarray.

What are ‘influencers’ influencing?

These emotions are compounded by the constant exposure to celebrity lives. If we follow the beautiful, designer clothing-clad, edited photos and videos of celebrities’ insta-handles we start feeling like they’re fabulous and successful because of their high materialism in their life. In comparison (and oh you will compare!)  our own little lives feel mundane. The habit of “I’m lacking” accentuates.

Think about it, why do they need so much designer clothes and edited pictures if they are as happy as they seem? Is the reason for fitness and a healthy lifestyle for butt-cheek exposed photo streams, or are they meant to be their own rewards—to be healthy and to feel good from better fitness? Is it about attaining a certain physique?  At the end of the day you do not get to feel lasting happiness.

You are probably already in a healthy place and didn’t need to try that grapefruit juice diet. And if are not, then there’s always that endless supply of memes that can drown your inner emptiness (yikes). Something to think about.

Its time to wean out of these habits.

How do we break the habit?

By getting help! No, I don’t mean going to a therapist, but making the small but significant changes each day that cuts a normalized obsessive habit. You can utilize free and paid resources in app stores that help you to build your will-power work. You can try:

  • Time your own indulgences: Use free apps like In Moment, Freedom and App Detox to track how much you spend time on your phone. This awareness and hard facts can spur you into reducing screen time. Some apps reduce access to productivity-killing apps for when you lack will-power. Try them.
  • Switch to productive alternatives: You need to make marginal adjustments to your daily routines. Instead of just quitting social media and then relapsing into the habit after a while, try a new activity. Say, you download Duo Lingo, a great user-friendly app to help learn a new language. Use the 15 minutes during your lunch break to learn a few skills instead of scrolling. In a couple of months, you can build a whole set of vocabulary with just 15 minutes a day! Or start a free course on Udemy on Coursera. Low on computer skills? Check out Code Academy for fun, there are some really easy free courses for non-techies. The key is to slowly but surely change habits.
  • Here’s a crazy idea, do nothing? Just pause and watch the world go by. Let the moment sink into your being. Notice that your breathing. Reflect. Notice your surroundings. Or if that initially scares you, go for a walk.

IGTV: game changer or doomed to fail?

Instagram, one of the largest social media platforms with over 1 billion monthly active users, has now launched Instagram TV or IGTV – as you may have noticed by the little orange IGTV button on the top right corner of your updated Instagram home. IGTV is a standalone app – so, in a way, it is to Instagram what Facebook Messenger is to Facebook, but for videos instead of messages. Thankfully, you can also view videos on IGTV through the IGTV button on Instagram home and on users’ Instagram profiles, so you won’t have to feel excluded if you haven’t downloaded the IGTV app yet – unlike Facebook Messenger. What I found myself wondering when I first discovered the IGTV button on Instagram is, since we already have access to video stories on Instagram itself and other video sharing platforms such as YouTube, how much can the introduction of IGTV change the online video world as we know it?

While at first glance IGTV videos looked a lot like Instagram stories (only longer), it turned out to be much more than that. Any Instagram user can create a channel and share videos lasting up to 10 minutes (much more satisfying than having to crop your videos to a mere 30 seconds as is on Instagram) – and for users with larger follower bases, that limit is an hour. While stories can only be 15 seconds per clip and last only 24 hours on your profile, IGTV videos are more like creating YouTube videos, only vertical and filling in your entire screen. Moreover, IGTV, unlike YouTube, allows its users to browse videos and see comments whilst watching videos at the same time – a feature YouTube users have so far been deprived of.

The idea of vertical videos is personally the most exciting aspect of IGTV to me, as this gives way to developing a whole new range of filmmaking techniques that have been largely undiscovered thus far. Film-making, traditionally done in a 16:9 aspect ratio, has always been so to mimic how the human eye views the world – horizontally. However, in the 21st century, our smartphones have gotten us quite accustomed to a more vertical view of the world, and so the new vertical experience reinforces the feeling that this is still the virtual world – a feeling that is very new, and perhaps weird, to us. Even having to rotate to view YouTube videos on full-screen can sometimes feel like too much of a hassle – that’s how much we have gotten used to viewing videos on our phones vertically. So vertical videos on IGTV not only seem convenient (albeit takes some getting used to at first), but create the scope for more experimenting for content-creators and film-makers. In fact, we had already seen a lot of vertical music videos from popular artists in 2017, and now that IGTV has created a platform build specifically for vertical viewing, there is a much broader prospect for those videos now on IGTV. The new vertical viewing experienced introduced in this platform can therefore be a huge game-changer.

What makes IGTV even easier to use is that Instagram is already a mass favorite social media platform. Popular instagrammers won’t have to worry about starting out on a new platform on IGTV but rather building up on an already existing platform. Until now, anyone who wanted to expand using both the video and photography media had to maintain YouTube and Instagram separately – having to build a follower base in both of these platforms. With IGTV now opening Instagram up to a larger range of video content, this changes the entire dynamic – users now have the opportunity to focus on only one platform, Instagram, for both videography and photography rather than having to spread their resources across several platforms. Similarly, users won’t have to switch back and forth on popular YouTube/Instagram personalities but focus on one platform only.

So the real question it all boils down to is : what does this mean for YouTube?

The launch of IGTV almost unquestionably challenges the most popular video website we have, but how much does it really challenge? On one hand, with IGTV being a vertical platform, the type of content that can be shared on IGTV has to be very differently created than what can be shared on YouTube. In this sense, content-creators who want to retain their quality might want to treat these two websites very differently. But what can impact YouTube about IGTV isn’t how the content-creators see it, but how their users see it – and frankly, IGTV has made its platform much more accessible and handy than YouTube is at the moment.

And even if IGTV does gain traction from its users, will it really affect YouTube all that much? IGTV works largely in the same way as YouTube – you have to make your videos first and you can only use the website to share your content, so it has a real scope at competing with YouTube. But to what extent it can really do this can only be determined by what content IGTV is best suited for. YouTube is more of an all-size-fits-all kind of platform – everything made for a horizontal screen (which is mostly everything) is up there, and everything that wasn’t made for a horizontal screen can be uploaded too. In this case, IGTV’s vertical take on things end up giving it the shorter end of the stick – it limits the range of content that can be uploaded there, and so limits how much it can actually challenge YouTube.

In the social media world, Instagram has made a big name already, a name that is right up there with YouTube. Starting out as a platform meant exclusively for photos, Instagram has achieved major success with the introduction of Instagram stories as well, and now with the launch of IGTV, we have no doubt that this will be big as well. What we can only wait to see is, how much of the YouTube territory can IGTV actually conquer? One thing is for sure: it is a huge relief that the new Instagram update is nothing like the Snapchat update that ruined everything, but rather brings hope, excitement, and perhaps even a new era of video culture.

Zuckerberg and Facebook’s day of reckoning?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself in the proverbial hot seat as he was grilled for a marathon 5 hour long hearing in front of the US Congress, as senators from the commerce and judiciary committees pelted questions regarding privacy, data mining, fake news, regulations and the social media giant’s involvement in the recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a British data firm with shady ties to the Russians.

If it sounds like a post-modernist spy film with slightly boring-action-yet-interesting-subplots, you’d be absolutely right.

If this image vaguely reminds you of Superman’s appearance in front of Congress in Dawn of Justice…you’re not alone. Minus the cape and the explody bits, of course.

On April 10th, Zuckerberg traded in his signature plan grey collarless shirt for a sharp suit, muted white shirt and a tie in the Facebook-shade-of-blue and appeared before a Congressional committee that seemed, over the course of the evening, appeared to be both blissfully unaware of the way Facebook collects and monetizes data as well as seemingly ready to ask the tough questions…that no one is really asking. With less than five minutes allotted to each member of the committee, the line of questioning that the 33 year old billionaire had to face barely scratched the surface of the overall problem, with barely any follow up questions – quite unlike the previous instances of the tech world clashing with government, like Bill Gates had to face in 1998.

Similar to the Gates hearing, however, Mark Zuckerberg was asked whether Facebook was a monopoly and actively engaging in anti-competitive practices, which the CEO took lightly and answered with “It doesn’t feel like it”. The floor made it somewhat clear that the committee members were concerned about the seemingly limitless power Facebook currently holds.

Some media outlets called the whole thing a “sham”, while others understood the need for such theatrics in calming an excited population and stock market – while Facebook’s shares were steadily falling before the hearing, the numbers stabilized and even climbed 4.5% afterwards. And while some of the questions might be seemingly hard-hitting on the surface, Zuckerberg’s responses were apologetic – a virulent mix of “I’m sorry”s and “We’re working on it”s.

Public apologies for data misuse – becoming quite common for Facebook and its young CEO.

In Facebook’s 14 years of existence, this seems to have become a cycle that they’ve nearly perfected – Facebook takes user data and either sells/distributes to third party advertisers and/or researchers/data miners, invariably gets caught, goes on a media apology tour and the world moves on with some good humoured meme and vine sharing. But now a line in the sand has been drawn – do not mess with the democratic process of elections. Cambridge Analytica’s data mining of nearly 87 million Facebook users with the help of researcher Aleksandr Kogan and alleged ties to the Donald Trump presidential campaign was an eye-opener – that social media is now plays an important enough role in the lives of people, enough to affect election results and who you’re likely to vote for.

So when the public audience at the hearing erupts into laughter following Zuckerberg’s “no” to a question fielded by Democrat Dick Durbin – “Would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?” – it’s enough to make most people’s skin crawl. If there’s anything to take away from the hearing, it’s that people might care less about their data privacy than Facebook does.

Democrat Richard Blumenthal put the Facebook CEO under some amount of stress when he said, “We’ve seen the apology tours before. You have refused to acknowledge even an ethical violation to report this violation of the FTC consent decree. My reservation about your testimony today is that I don’t see how you can change your business model unless there are specific rules of the road. Your business model is to maximise profit over privacy.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is surrounded by members of the media as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees joint hearing regarding the company’s use and protection of user data, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis.

Another senator pointed out how Zuckerberg’s second in command, Sheryl Sandberg, went on morning TV and talked about getting users to pay if they wanted to opt out of having their data shared with third parties, to which he gave yet another vague answer. Much of the hearing saw Zuckerberg deflecting questions and trying to run out the clock, while driving home Facebook’s mission statement of “connecting people and letting ideas foster”.

Republican Ted Cruz picked up on that and gave Zuckerberg an equally hard time about the “liberal bias” of Facebook’s team of content moderators, who are seemingly more prone to taking down conservative viewpoints like those of Christian evangelists than regulating liberals and their Planned Parenthood pages. To which Zuckerberg replied “Palo Alto is one of the most liberal places on earth”…forgetting, for a moment perhaps, that Facebook is as global an entity as any.

But liberal biases and vague answers aside, the young CEO was forced to clear out the Cambridge Analytica issue as much as he could. Zuckerberg initially claimed there was no scope for blocking Cambridge Analytica from being on Facebook in 2015 when their activities were first brought to light, as CA maintained no pages and was neither a developer nor an advertiser.

However, after taking some time to consult his team, Zuckerberg clarified:  “[From] what my understanding was … they were not on the platform, [they] were not an app developer or advertiser. When I went back and met with my team afterwards, they let me know that Cambridge Analytica actually did start as an advertiser later in 2015. So we could have in theory banned them then. We made a mistake by not doing so. But I just wanted to make sure that I updated that because I … I … I misspoke, or got that wrong earlier.”

Cambridge Analytica’s data mining of nearly 87 million Facebook users with the help of researcher Aleksandr Kogan and alleged ties to the Donald Trump presidential campaign was an eye-opener – that social media is now plays an important enough role in the lives of people, enough to affect election results and who you’re likely to vote for.

Senator Leahy took a line of questioning that struck close to home for South Asia: “… six months ago, I asked your general counsel about Facebook’s role as a breeding ground for hate speech against Rohingya refugees. Recently, U.N. investigators blamed Facebook for playing a role in inciting possible genocide in Myanmar. And there has been genocide there. You say you use A.I. to find this. This is the type of content I’m referring to. It calls for the death of a Muslim journalist. Now, that threat went straight through your detection systems, it spread very quickly, and then it took attempt after attempt after attempt, and the involvement of civil society groups, to get you to remove it.”

In response, Zuckerberg laid out a plan – “There are three specific things that we’re doing… hiring dozens of Burmese-language content reviewers, because hate speech is very language-specific…working with civil society in Myanmar to identify specific hate figures so we can take down their accounts…standing up a product team to do specific product changes in Myanmar and other countries that may have similar issues in the future to prevent this from happening.”

With the initial hearing ending on a note of regret and taking responsibility on Facebook’s part and Zuckerberg promising more involvement in finding the “right kind of regulation” that could work for what is essentially a social media monopoly, one thing is clear – there is a long way to go for Facebook in developing a mature, effective and trustworthy system that balances profitability with privacy, freedom of expression and accountability, and nearly everything in-between. Considering the role social media has begun to play in our daily lives, it’s vital that tech companies like Facebook get their act together and bridge the gaping chasms that they have unintentionally created.

Facebook rolls out updates to fight “fake news”

After several shocking revelations concerning Facebook sharing data with Cambridge Analytica, the social media giant has started rolling out an update that it tested last year as a means of curbing the tidal wave of “fake news”. Hopefully it will help build a credible base of information shared on Facebook, and reduce the influence of websites producing and distributing fake news.

By tapping on the [about this article, i] button on a news shared on Facebook, details about the website shared from and similar news appears. Scroll down and you will even find the regions where the news is getting shared from the most. It also shows who shared it – one of the crucial points of this new feature.

Initially the update appears to be giving context for the news that users share, but this new feature will help users recognize their Facebook friend’s views even more.

This clarifies how Facebook recognizes your behavioral patterns and builds a specific advertisement stream tailored for you. But this will shed more light on the people in your newsfeed who might be more prone to sharing fake news.

According to developers, the idea came from the “related articles” you can find whenever you interact with a news article on Facebook. In order for this feature to work, however, the authors of these stories have to have author tags implemented on their page.

The update is already available to everyone in the US and it’s expected to roll out worldwide in a few days.