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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

OKCupid Co-Founder Speaks Further On User Experimentation

 OKCupid Lies To You Almost As Much As You Lie To It

Christian Rudder, co-founder of OKCupid, has spoken further about his company’s experimentation with users following his controversial blog post ‘We Experiment On Human Beings!’ last week. After admitting that the post was ‘sensationally written’ and at least partly intended to incite active debate around the topic, he defended the dating website’s actions on the grounds that it was part of the ‘scientific method’ – that without this kind of experimentation no website could ever hope to improve its users’ experience.

okcupid dating
The backlash against OKCupid (and Facebook, for a similar experiment that they admitted to conducting earlier this year) has mainly centred on the idea that there is some implicit agreement between user and company, that the obligation rests with these companies to represent our data in a reasonable and expected way.

The first problem is that we don’t see everything we theoretically ‘should’ on social media sites anyway. Facebook rolled out its Top Stories feature some time ago, wherein it was the most popular and commented-upon posts which took up most of the space on users’ feeds rather than relying on pure chronology. Users grumbled, but there was still the option to view posts by ‘most recent’ and clearly enough people were happy with Top Stories for it to stay.

Likewise, as Rudder pointed out, OKCupid already uses certain metrics and algorithms to determine who is compatible and who isn’t. These are not written on tablets of stone, contrary to popular belief – thousands of years of human intellectual endeavour have gone into the figuring out what makes people fall in love, and it seems unlikely that a couple of guys managed to crack it on their first try (even if they did go to Harvard). Constant tweaking and refinement is the name of the game when it comes to perfecting user experience, and doubtless these same people would be kicking up a fuss about some other aspect that wasn’t running according to their exact preferences.

okcupid dating
Perhaps most importantly, everyone who has complained about this is a shameless hypocrite. To launch into self-righteous indignation over how you are represented on a dating site of all places seems to lack so much self-awareness as to be comic. The stereotype of the 22 stone, thrice-divorced chain smoker who lists themselves as having an athletic body and enjoying long walks on the beach is beyond a cliché by this point, but the fact remains that everyone misrepresents themselves on dating sites as well as on the internet in general.

Steven Furtick said that ‘the reason we struggle with insecurity is because we’re comparing our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel,’ and yet that doesn’t stop us posting pictures of our amazing safari but not of us curled up in bed with the flu, of fancy dinners with friends but not eating McDonalds alone in our car. Perhaps one day we’ll reach a stage of self-confidence sufficient to represent our true selves both online and off, but until that mythical point it’s hard to blame OKCupid for fiddling with a few profiles to try and find out who we really are, and who we might really love.

WWI Remembered On Social Media

 People Come Together To Commemorate Losses Of The Great War

Wilfred Owen, as he watched his fellow soldiers die beside him the trenches, asked ‘What passing-bells for those who die as cattle?’ Now, a hundred years later, on the centenary of the beginning of World War I, people have taken to social media to remember and commemorate those who gave their lives during the conflict.

wwi centenary
While the politicians’ speeches and newspaper articles were about the big picture, social media gave people a chance to speak out about the personal effect of the Great War; people spoke of grandparents, neighbours, teachers who gave their lives.

Engagement with social media also gave organisations a chance to make public information about the War in new and innovative ways. The Greater London Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association (GL RFCA) created a Facebook page for a fictional soldier from Battersea called Walter Carter which was then updated in real time with posts about events leading up to the outbreak of war, incorporating real historical documents and references.

On Twitter the hashtag #WWIcentenary was trending, with people using it to share the memories which had been passed down to them. Since Harry Patch, the last British veteran of the trenches died in 2009 the importance of maintaining this history has become more acute and social media acted as a forum for people to collectively share and store these memories. Almost sixty thousand people tweeted with the hashtag #WWI in July alone, with many of these being concerned with personal memories and experience: according to the website, 1200 of those tweets alone mentioned ‘home,’ and over 1600 mentioned ‘love.’

wwi memorial
The coinciding of the centenary with the Commonwealth games gave an additional poignancy to proceedings, with the contributions from all the former nations of the British Empire being recognised. David Cameron used #WWIcentenary to talk about a special service at Glasgow Cathedral to recognise the contributions of the Commonwealth nations, and individuals used social media as a platform to speak about those who they feared may be forgotten – such as the 400,000 Muslims who fought for the Allies during the conflict.

People also took the opportunity to launch campaigns to bring this mass remembrance offline. The hashtag #lightsout was created to encourage people to switch off their lights between 10 and 11 pm tonight, a reference to Sir Edward Grey’s remark at the outbreak of war that ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’

All this helps to remind us that social media is not simply a platform for a display of our own lives, or a tool to facilitate business – it is what it says it is: a society. Its strength is not something inherent, but only a product of the interaction of the billions of individuals who use it, and one may hold out some hope that that the kind of international conversation and cooperation seen on this anniversary is something of a guarantee that that which is being remembered is truly being consigned to history.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Children need ‘true grit’ to be able to cope with social media

A leading headmaster has stated that children are being made to feel like the “inadequate stars of a second-rate biopic”. This comes after the increasing level of personal scrutiny aimed at youngsters on the Internet, and many are taking the position that social media is now a negative thing. The risks are there to see but there is also another side of social media that can be beneficial.

Children and social media

Andrew Halls also said that sites such as Facebook, Little Gossip and Instagram are forcing under-16s to live under an “electric adjudicator far more cruel and censorious” than teachers, and parents. During the speech he suggested that the growing influence of social media is fuelling a surge in mental health problems amongst children in all social classes.
These are very strong words from someone who is meant to be tutoring new technologies that come into play and not slamming them down. Like everything there is a plus and negative side to all inventions, and it is surely the education system’s role to nurture children through the positive steps whilst explaining the negatives and the impact they can have on others.
Andrew Halls is in a position of high authority, and many will no doubt take on board his words, and this is why it is so surprising that his choice of argument is baffling. If a child was to read what he has said then the natural reaction would be to challenge that authority, because he is clearly against social media. This is what happens in schools without the appropriate tutoring. There is a growing issue to do with bullying online but the wrong way to go about challenging it is to just identify it in the public eye. Mr Halls should have said what he plans to do to keep this at bay, because that is what is needed due to social media not going away.

Technology and social media

There are educational benefits to be seen out of sites such as Facebook, and maybe what the educational institutions should be doing is encouraging their students to use the site as a form of collective discussion after school. Despite the children being sat in front of a screen after school is not ideal, it is now the reality so at least this would help them pursue knowledge instead of harming others.

In today’s world, it is appropriate that not only should children be learning the core subjects at school, but also be taught in social media management. By this I mean personal management, and this would include how to act online, and what types of things to avoid, but also how to gain intellectually out of using social media. This may not appeal to everyone, but at present there is no one else suggesting alternatives. This is possibly the route Mr Halls should have pursued before launching an attack on social media as a whole, because one day his students may be using the platform as a way to start a successful business.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Has social media created the 'dual individual'?

Social media is a place for the self-obsessed at times.  You can scroll down an Instagram feed and see many selfies taken at different angles and topped off with an array of filters.  Some people upload a different picture every time their mood changes in one day, but why?

In a consumer driven culture, you just have to take a trip to your local shopping centre and you will see multiple pictures of barely dressed models with seemingly flawless body figures.  This is having an impact on how the masses see themselves, and it has a detrimental effect on how society is being educated about how to act in both the public and personal spheres of communication and self-building.  Marketing has been massive in the influence of the beauty image, and displaying a massive image of a model with a protruding six-pack and sculpture like jawbone with zero body hair is actually making the majority of society strive for something that is not attainable without the help of surgery.
Dramaturgical theory is now reality and most people are taking on the roles of people they see on TV, making life essentially a theatrical performance.  There is also an emphasis in society to stay young, and therefore the natural symptoms of growing older, or hitting another stage of life are being looked at as negative. This is especially the case for women who have a tough time when it comes to cosmetic judgement.  The whole language around a female who is growing older is significantly more negative than a male.  For example Women are subjected to negative comments if they are displaying wrinkles on the face, with terms such as ‘weathered’ and ‘hag’ being used.  This is different for men as there as society now views them as ‘matured’.  There is essentially an argument that society suggests women grow old, and men grow up.
Social media came along and the spotlight is as blinding as ever, especially for young people.  People are conditioned now to project an unrealistic version of themselves online, and in the end it just wears down a persons psyche.  Everyone is putting so much time into creating a digital identity, and the fine details of a digital persona all depends on how others are portraying themselves online.  With all this going on behind the scenes, what happens to the ‘real life’ person in front of the computer?  Is there now a duel personality?  Are two versions of one entity too difficult to maintain?
This is maybe where the condition ‘Smiling depression’ comes from.  Someone who is suffering will be very good at hiding the psychological difficulties that they experience, and often adopt a happy disposition, along with a great sense of humour among social gatherings, but ultimately struggle in isolation.
Social media then is a tool for people who wish to project this platonic ideal of the self.  This in turn constructs a mentality other than the physical one that is present, leaving the individual literally in two minds as to who they are.  This is where the person finds it impossible to lead two lives, as they are chasing their aspirations in the real world, whilst striving to portray a perpetually happy persona on the Internet.

If a person then chooses to ditch one of the personalities then problems can occur.  In the case that the individual chooses to pursue the goal of polishing their online persona then they become detached from the so called ‘real world’, leaving them alienated from society, therefore their inter-personal skills would suffer as a result of lesser human interaction.  If the individual was to abandon the online self, then again this may lead to alienation as now it is an expectation by the majority that an individual takes part in social networking, and if you’re not, then why?
Both of these options could then lead to a psychological illness such as depression and then the spiral continues.  This sort of discussion brings up the fact that our society are still children in the world of social media, and young people in particular are facing growing pressure to lead dual lives.  Networks such as Instagram are a place to spawn these new personalities, as an individual is not pressurised to display their negative traits, and by looking at someone’s profile, you could easily think that you are inferior due to the perfection quest of some.
It is an issue that will no doubt continue due to the growing influence of not only social media, but also marketing across the world.  This is not only in shopping centres that display the beauty image, but also TV shows, films, and magazines that tell you that you should also look like a model, or else success will not come your way.  It is a difficult environment to stably live in for some people who are of a sensitive nature, but one hopes that the positives of social media will outweigh a problem such as this.