Jon Favreau’s indie comedy Chef is pitched at foodies—but it has a lot of smart, refreshingly positive things to say about Twitter, too.
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In the 1997 movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, the two title characters, worried that they haven’t done anything noteworthy to share at said reunion, decide instead to lie and claim they invented Post-it notes.
Their story quickly unravels, of course, but had the movie been made a decade later, even the very concept of the ruse would have been impossible. Everyone would have known about Romy’s daily slog at the Jaguar dealership through Facebook.
Or would they?
The ebb and flow of Facebook friendships has become fruitful territory for social scientists in recent years. At least 63 percent of people report having unfriended someone on Facebook, but what prompts these digital rejections can tell us a lot about both the nature of real-life friendship and about how we manage our online personalities.
We’ve been trying to figure out the moment Twitter turned, retracing tweets to see whether there was something specific that soured the platform.
Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing.
Or, at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing. And it’s maybe not a very important demographic, this very weird and specific kind of user: audience-obsessed, curious, newsy. Twitter’s earnings last quarter, after all, were an improvement on the period before, and it added 14 million new users for a total of 255 million. The thing is: Its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight.
* Depending on the product you’re buying and the person doing the tweeting.
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At 2:38 p.m. on September 9, 2013, Jeremy Fowler posted a picture of his family wearing bicycle helmets while standing in front of the split-rail fence of a horse corral in nowhere New Hampshire. The reflection of their washed out skin bespoke the 2.0 megapixels of Jeremy’s flip phone camera. It was a strange image to arrive on my Facebook newsfeed, a pixilated tribute to Jeremy’s father who died 48 hours earlier. It was Jeremy’s last photograph with all of family members present, a gesture of quixotic solemnity in a medium where the earnest so often do not belong.
He accompanied the picture with this status: “Yesterday my dad unexpectedly went to be with the Lord, we’re glad that he’s in a far better place than we are but we will miss him so much, plz pray for our family during this difficult time!” To date, the post has received 62 likes and 33 comments from some of his 459 friends. Most have said things like, “God be with y’all!!! We have and will continue to pray.”
Death, typically such a huge taboo, was now a subject fit for Facebook, with all its abbreviated spellings and exclamation marks.
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According to the Pay-It-Forward-Day authorities, today is Pay-It-Forward Day. The “holiday” celebrates of little acts of kindness between friends and strangers: If one person does something kind for another, the recipient of that kindness will be kind to someone else, and kindness will move across the world.
Think of it as an unfolding social network, of sorts, of kindness.
Naturally, a social network has turned its attention to the concept. Facebook’s always-intriguing data science team has looked at a popular, pay-it-forward-related status update from the beginning of this year. The status passed across more than 800,000 profiles and was translated into nine languages before the team stopped tracking it at the end of January.
The NBA playoffs have begun. The emotions of millions are at stake every night.
But NBA franchises are also businesses, and those businesses depend on fans buying into the team, both literally and figuratively. And now, Facebook is the dominant place where those fans perform their identities online. The franchise Facebook page has become a key indicator of business health.
So, Spanish researchers at the University of Extremadura decided to create a tool that would let them at least quasi-objectively rank teams’ Facebook presences.
"Social media provide a unique and strategic means for sport teams to enhance brand management, encourage social interactions among fans, promote ticket sales, and cultivate a more favorable online experience," writes the research team, led by Francisco Javier Miranda in the International Journal of Sports Communication.
The list Miranda’s team compiled is interesting, too, because of how it intersects with the performance of the teams on the court.
When Sandra Hassan created the I Am Alive app, her intention was mostly dark humor. A 26-year-old graduate student in Paris, Hassan had gotten sick of worrying about family and friends whenever she heard news of a suicide bombing in her hometown of Beirut. A detonation on January 21, in the same neighborhood where a car bomb had exploded just three weeks earlier, spurred her to action. In what she describes as an “expression of discontent,” Hassan developed an app that allows users, with one touch, to tweet a reassuring message to their followers: “I am still alive! #Lebanon #LatestBombing.”
The app quickly caught on: within a month, it was downloaded more than 5,000 times.
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Social media companies constantly collect data on their users because that’s how they provide customized experiences and target their advertisements. All Twitter and Facebook users know this, and there is a broad array of feelings about how good or bad the persistent tracking of their social relationships is.
What we do know, though, is that—when they want to—they are aware of how to go behind the machine’s back. They know how to communicate with just the humans without tipping their intentions to the algorithm.
In a new paper, University of North Carolina sociologist Zeynep Tufekci explores some of these strategies among Turkish protesters. She looks at these behaviors as analytical challenges for researchers who are trying to figure out what’s going on. “Social media users engage in practices that alter their visibility to machine algorithms, including subtweeting, discussing a person’s tweets via ‘screen captures,’ and hate-linking,” Tufekci writes. “All these practices can blind big data analyses to this mode of activity and engagement.”
The same practices, though, from the user perspective, can be understood as strategies for communicating without being computed. All they require to execute is thinking like an algorithm.
Read more. [Image: Renee Magritte via Wikimedia Commons/The Atlantic]
“My superior is a gamer.” Sister Helena Burns said, laughing. “You know you’re a media nun when your superior is a gamer.”
You might not expect nuns to be experts on Twitter, Facebook, and multi-player video games, but Burns defies all expectations. With 13,790 Twitter followers and counting, the Daughter of St. Paul calls herself a “media nun”: A woman religious with a calling to communicate the word of Christ, in any way she can.
And yes, there is a gamer-superior in her convent.
“She has this souped-up computer,” Burns continued. “She gets her own little ministry out there. Once people get to know she’s a nun, they have questions, or they ask for prayers. But you do have to clean up your language when Sister Irene’s out there.”
I imagine Sister Irene sitting in front of a sleek desktop with neon LED backlights, wearing her bright yellow Grado headphones and concentrating intensely on a multi-player RPG. It’s a funny image—there’s such a symbolic disconnect between the stereotypical idea of a nun and a basement-dwelling teenager who loves World of Warcraft. That’s what’s so fascinating about these sisters and their order: They defy stereotypes about who participates in Internet culture, and how.
So how does a nun use social media?
Read more. [Image courtesy of Helena Burns]