Category Archives: technology

Algorithms destroy reputations. Ban them.

The mass scale of social media made its creators think first about the investor’s returns and profit margins and only then address usability and features. Everyone would post what they wanted, but some basic rules should be followed: sex and violence, treated as equally dangerous “violations” could not be depicted. When it comes to violence, everyone agrees. We’re not here to defend that mass shootings be exhibited on Instagram live. There couldn’t be a more opposed stance for this blog. But when it comes to sex, I’m not watching it live on camera either. I’ve touched upon the world of cam models, which is different, but nobody seemed to listen. Nevertheless, it’s still a violation, but these models have profiles on Instagram and Twitter.

Violence is never the answer. Moderation needs to be there. But when you fail to convince people that you’re right about something, and you realize they’re trying to control you, then you might change your behavior. That’s how most teenagers end up using drugs. The effects on their bodies causes a desired sense of otherness and presents an alternative. When it comes to sex, everyone is online and nobody does that anymore, since we found out that we could be easily identified.

But the question isn’t that. The main problem is everything we do, whether the cam is on or not, is being tracked. The time spent reading a news story is counterposed with the time spent watching cam models. So there is a reputational system. They don’t realize that all the reasons one could have for seeking pleasure, tackling addiction from the equation, aren’t being mapped out. The algorithm doesn’t say: “this user is lonely”. The algorithm says: “this user spent 4 hours watching cams”. And that repeats itself every single day.

If we don’t change the way that we think about social media maintenance, we won’t have a say when it comes to our jobs. Imagine trying to convince people that what you really care about is gender equality, when all you do is watch Pornhub. That doesn’t stick anymore. And they think they’re really smart. They don’t say who’s paying for ads on the site, and they don’t say what’s being done with our data. But they will, inevitably, judge based on that same data. Who convinced people this was fair?

Algorithms might make our experience better, but in the end, even when they’re excelling, we’ll have a feeling that we’re being shown “more of the same”. The need for new experiences is what drives creativity and discovery. We’ll always have that. The recent developments on AI technology invading conversations, lesson plans, customer service and other areas are moving in an astonishingly wrong direction. Algorithms are a form of control. But we control what we do and choose what to say, because that’s the stuff we want. Don’t be convinced of the opposite.

Things I wish my students knew

On this blog, I wanna talk about some the the things I wish my students knew. What that means is I’ll be looking for common mistakes, but also learning mindsets. When you come to class with a need to prove yourself instead of open yourself to new experiences, you’re just in the wrong place — unless it’s college. But even then, you’re very likely not raising a hand.

I’ve spent college years among people who would never raise their hand, but had the most comprehensive class notes I’d ever seen. Some of them had experiences abroad, and it’s fair to say, I guess, that today most of them do, or at least they’ve found stable jobs. My group was timidly working its way to the top of the educational landscape positions, and I think there’s a few of us who got a spotlight; maybe I did. What matters is what we had to learn ourselves in this process.

This means dealing with unhappy clients, making sure you could help at the crowded reception, knocking at the door of other departments to see if everything was going well, making time for my students, being available online even though the company never set that policy. There are things I took the initiative to do, and they were noticed. When it comes down to tech, though, it’s a little more complicated. Who are your contacts? What’s your social media presence?

And these are things we didn’t discuss at all. So here are a few items on my list, that I’d like to share.

1) Your social media is who you want to be.

That means all the models of hybrid work need to reflect that. On socials, you’re now expected to cover a variety of topics, and navigate through them seamlessly, and gracefully.

2) Who you really are is none of people’s business.

Your personal email is your personal email. Separate it from your work email, because you might not know it until you’re in that position yourself: that’s what all companies do. If, say, you want to respond to clients over WhatsApp, you’ll likely install the For Business app. That means, if you don’t want them to know your phone number, you need a new one. And so you either have a phone just for work or a phone with two SIM card slots. That, in itself, is a hard choice (think about logging out!)

3) Likes are strategy, but you can choose to be kind.

When people look at your activity, it’s all gonna be suggestions for a better user experience, and how fast you can get to the more juicy content, so to speak. But that can come from new connections which, a lot of the times, people are not willing to make. Then, that becomes personal. You begin to have personal opinions about a brand’s identity, and that’s good because it shows you’re not looking at your job less passionately; but you should be mindful of making the right moves for personal branding purposes, especially with formal attachment to an existing brand.

4) Less selfies, more ideas.

Beauty matters, but what else does? A lot of stuff. Feeling good about yourself is very important, but if you happen to take a picture that nobody likes, then you might just wanna change course. Have you thought about what your activity says, and the fact other people, or even content moderators, might be accessing that data? Sharing other people’s content is great, but original materials produced by you and put out with a smart approach will make people discover you — maybe commenting, for example, could be the start of a good interaction.

5) Design is underrated, but don’t forget about your goals

While it’s absolutely unquestionable that a well-presented graph, an invitation to a panel, a quick subscription link or a redirect to a linked story on your bio will make your socials more engaging, along with videos for those who are already engaged, thinking about what words you’re going to use is more of a craft. As Susan Sontag says: “agonize over sentences”.

6) Things I wish my students knew about life

Everybody walks a different path. The things I wish my students knew are things I wish I could openly share with them, and we’d learn from each other. This idea that you enter a crowded room in order to shine and be the center of attention is how you can tell character plays a role and your job is to contain bursts of self-confidence. Sometimes, the other people in the room want you to stop talking. And most of them deserve the space to talk. That’s why people have even made this a meme: “this could have been an email”.

Take a look at what Alex Cattoni says about digital marketing in 2023.

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Is TikTok a cybersecurity threat? It depends.

Whenever people say TikTok is a cybersecurity threat, you just wanna go for the deep ends. The last time I blogged, just like the Titanic meme, it was many years ago. I mean, imagine if you needed to wait for my next blog so you had something to do. That would be a bummer, wouldn’t it? I was proud of how I finished my text. But let me tell the joke: instead of a deep ending, I could invest in a deep beginning, and so I’d start talking about, I don’t know, Mariana’s web. Oh shit, that’s a spoiler. Alright, the philosophy of Kant, baby voice version! Here it goes.

This thumbnail shows Kant’s philosophy as a “no gray areas” kind of thing. As this (brilliant) content producer puts it, the author says “what is right is right, what is wrong is wrong, period”. Thanks to Maria Popova, who runs one of the most brilliant blogs in the world, now called The Marginalian, I found out about this video. My thing is whenever I think of a historical writer, I Google Maria’s blog to see if she’s written about it. She always has. And that happens to be a short version of something dense.

So you find that people have been there before you. But what are you talking about? The list of surprises in my childhood vary so much. When I was about 4, I think I saw my dad’s dick. I was 6, I broke my finger. By the time I was 9, someone at school asked me to translate “fish”, “ball” and “cat”, but in Portuguese. Here you go, geeks (or people who never got out of 3rd grade; you never know): those three words translated, in my first language, sound like I’m saying “I just sucked dick”.

Now, is that funny? Yes. It is. So you’d probably see this all over TikTok. And that is the appeal. We care less about children saying the word “dick” than we care about our kids being happy. So we let this one slide. Alright, kid: laugh about the blowjob joke. But what kind of blowjob? Have you actually scrolled TikTok?

This blog has written about the concerns of the competition. That’s what people don’t seem to get. TikTok in Brazil has people saying (to be honest, that was years ago) that teenagers liked to fuck “the brothers in the faction”, and then you saw 14 year olds tease their tiny tits on a top and jiggle their butts on camera at the sound of a videogame gun loading. Is that okay, Bolsonaro?

Why is TikTok a government issue?

I don’t know what the guy thought about that. In fact, in terms of media, we might be about to see what happens. What most people say about TikTok is that it compresses time and relevance. People have become obsessed with the ticking clock and they want to be talking flawlessly.

That lack of imperfection is a social factor that needs to be addressed, but the companies are injecting that into teenage brains, not anyone else.

The other aspect is how messages are heavily edited and it becomes hard to follow what’s being said. It’s literally too much information. For the younger or foreign, there’s a short: “tmi” — and you can probably add the Urban Dictionary to your favorites if you haven’t, or just keep in mind it exists. It speaks very closely to tl;dr. I’ve had to navigate these terms “growing up online”, with expressions like “wdym” (“what do you mean?”) being a puzzle to me — but I always found my way around it.

A third aspect is how that’s going to play out. On the one side, you have too much information (and let’s not even talk about data); on the other, you have too little information. The videos are short by standard, just like Twitter. You see, TikTok observed Twitter for a while, but it also observed Instagram and YouTube. Then it mixed it all together, made the “best algorithm for success”, and got every teenager in the world addicted.

According to Soko Media’s Business of Apps, TikTok was expected to reach 1.8 billion users (let’s just say it will soon reach the 2 billion mark), with 3 billion downloads. That’s a lot.

So the question of whether TikTok represents a cybersecurity threat becomes relevant. What is cybersecurity anyway? 2FA? Incognito? Lock screens? Passwords with caps lock? Apparently, it’s not a password manager, and it’s not believing too much in digital money either (just in case someone needs a reminder about LastPass and FTX).

To me, this is absolutely about identity. And what I would personally point out as a cybersecurity threat is the use of biometrics. Do your own research, or maybe ask at the local bank. Hell, we ever had to do that during elections in Brazil. I didn’t. Many did.

Specifically, why is TikTok a cybersecurity threat, and not everything else?

Well, this one’s easy: the big four (Scott Galloway is my mentor) don’t like competition. As this video is from 2015, I think 8 years later we should be looking at how Meta is wasting our money. He does point out to Tumblr as a problem deal; today I strongly think Meta is guilty of fiscal irresponsibility, not in the fashion that Brazilian ousted president Dilma Rousseff was accused of, by using the Bank of Brazil’s money to buy food, but taking 87 billion dollars and investing in some virtual reality.

But why would you care about international context?

If you wanna draw a parallel, I’ll be translating from Brazil’s Veja magazine:

The accusation is that the government delayed the repayment of 3.5 billion Brazilian Real to the Bank of Brazil for the settlement with beneficiaries of the Plan of Agricultural Incentive. With that, The Bank of Brazil had to deal with the expenses from its own pocket, with a bond from the Treasury. This credit transaction, since the government ended up taking a loan from a State bank as the Bank of Brazil, is prohibited by the Law of Fiscal Responsibility. By the end if 2015, in a decision from the Federal Court of Accounts, Treasury finally settled the 72.4 billion that were still late. The main consequence: a deficit of 115 billion in the government’s budget.

Veja magazine article, June 6, 2016.

I have questions! Was it 115 billion or 72 billion? The magazine doesn’t explain the 42 billion difference in the report. What consequence? Didn’t the payment go through? If you care about finance, it’s one thing. If you care about money, it’s arguably another. Having a credit card, you pay your bills because you have a job — otherwise, you wouldn’t be having a credit card. But go say that in public today. Fintech is the future! Notice how interest rates made a 3 and a half billion loan turn into a +100 billion debt. And again, the payment went through. To whom? It’s safe to say that was the market. But it seems that people forget about that part, don’t they?

And this market build on other things. Dilma had to face, in her own way, what happened when the American government wanted to spy on the country’s communications. The result was to let them, while Americans ran their businesses we treated abusive practices as normal. But they wanna talk about TikTok? Without addressing how much money people derive from data, we’ll never get to the point.

Without addressing the role of marketing in our lives, we’ll never get to the point. Cybersecurity has a lot to do with marketing. There are many initiatives to stop companies from spying on us, the most famous being Ad Blockers, recommended by many.

But what about the young girls dancing?

I’m not here to judge, man. Are you? The girls can surely listen to some better music, but I think I barely understood the Red Hot Chilli Peppers when I was 11. And I actually liked Eminem. I’m not gonna judge the girls, and I’m not interested in supporting their little dance moves either; but you see, I’m far from being their daddy. If we’re talking about Snapchat, though, there’s much to debate.

The biggest cybersecurity threat doesn’t come from TikTok, necessarily. What we face today is companies having access to your every account, without distinction. You can’t just label an Instagram account “just for fun” without calling it “professional”. And that is far more troubling. But we might just get stuck on this idea that if there’s a tick on our cock, you might wanna get rid of it. That might be, indeed, a very serious threat. Or maybe just another blowjob joke.

Social media stress? Let’s start with age.

While the world turned its attention to COVID, Ukraine, inflation, Twitter and the World Cup, I knew I had a story, despite the stress on social media. The big companies were investing in the metaverse, but that conversation never really happened. Why would they do that? Isn’t that just some kid-friendly alternative to parenthood? I mean, put them all in a virtual space, moderate the language, and they won’t have the burdens of managing block lists. Of course, that was the entire purpose of not showing anything below the waist — but an alternative was what we all looked for. This escape from reality might have seemed foolish, but most people didn’t think it through (knowing general statistics of use, analyzing recent psychology data) and complained about the graphics. Actually, people were sick and tired of marketing on Meta platforms, so they demanded quality content.

The solution, they said, wouldn’t come from artificial intelligence. That can’t be trusted: look at TikTok and how quickly young populations get addicted to it. The behavioral perspective came into scrutiny; but the tools designed to capture more eyeballs, less so. People are right now discussing a ban on TikTok, but that was very early on and it came back into public debate. A Chinese company collecting data on young people can’t possibly happen. What they seemed to miss, though, was that the rhythm of interactions amongst the youth was in fact getting faster. Analysts might propose another debate: how quickly we bond. And psychologist would complement: what constitutes a bond, these days?

The paths people take

I’m among the people collecting data on the youth. And I actually got banned from social media for that reason. It seems that people forgot that was my premise, since 2011, doing research on social media. Without a book to publish, I relied on the academics who knew about my intentions to recommend me a path. I remember, back in 2008, asking a senior professor, Ângela Rodrigues, who got her PhD in 1987, about future research. I learned all my life that you call the elderly the equivalent of Mrs. It’s not like Americans do; it’s something for the elderly exclusively: “senhora”. So I said: “Mrs. Rodrigues, do you think I should study in the Social Sciences building?” And she smiled, answering that was a great idea. I never knew I’d be shifting from transcription of speech to social media analysis.

Today, they advertise me a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Michigan. The concept takes me to the world of “social assistance”, which in many cases we associate with mental health. And my last conversation with my therapist Adriana was very clarifying. I guess I chose a more difficult path. I wanted to participate in decisions taken by social media platforms, because of my background. Maybe I saw myself pointing out that humor is like that because it’s always been: look at the classic poetry of Catullus. Since Ancient Rome, people have used dirty words. Even in poetry. But my job was to investigate how often, with who and where from.

The challenge of contextualizing

When COVID struck us, America was living under the Trump administration. We had witnessed, or at least heard about, a “trade war” with China. Much later on, they’d talk about the shortage of semiconductors — nothing to do with how much you sext. And we’d hear that the major grain producer in the world was suddenly seeing a supply chain interruption. That led prices to spike, and geopolitical tensions, with gas prices following up, to be more widely debated. In the midst of that, people were looking for entertainment, from their homes. But they wanted to understand what was happening too, and a lot of people thought at least one social media platform was designed for that. It’s hard to sum it up, but we’re all trying.

Ask an average American teenager if saying the N-word is alright. This kind of discussion is essential, but we can’t change the culture, especially when there’s a notion of who’s allowed and who’s not. We enter the zone of freedom and restriction. Americans don’t like restrictions on them — it’s the free world. But you’d have to think twice when your companies are responsible for global policy. And that’s where the big problem lies. Accountability, so it seems, was for the people using platforms, not for its creators. We fell for a scheme. Our data has already been sold. Our activity, analyzed by every angle, makes a new company create strategy somewhere in the world, and that’s beautiful. And what are we doing when we question that? The data is the solution, not the problem. But who’s taking a closer look?

Social media policy, education and age-related stress

When I was creating my pedagogical material, I thought about something that happened in my life. I was talking to an underage girl for the first time. I was about 21; at the risk of censorship, I’ll just be honest like I always have and confess that she was 15. But I didn’t learn that until, well, we were past the greeting phase, so to speak. And today that’s an opportunity for the smart; the biggest headache of your life for those who chose that more difficult path. You’d have to look at it the way they do: if people don’t know how to start conversations, let’s teach them — we can charge for that.

Nobody seems to realize that’s barely necessary: everyone has profiles containing all you need to know about them (if not on the surface, in the data collected). But we don’t run technology companies: we’re average internet users. And once we get past the greeting phase, where do we go? That’s my actual job. How to build solid argumentation, how to avoid taking pauses when you speak, how to connect your thoughts clearly and naturally. It turns out that this girl was asking me for something: “I want you to call me a slut”, she said. My conflicts were too big to accept that I wanted her to be satisfied with our virtual play, but I faced them with a whisper, and said the words. She dropped the call. We never interacted on social media, because of the stress.

Different age, same issues

You might wonder: did she want to hear a more masculine voice, sounding like a guy who’s in charge? But of course you’ll point out: “so, let me get this straight: how old was she, then?” — and I would have to say I don’t remember. And that’s the reason why I don’t include a discussion of the word “slut” in my pedagogical material. Far from my personal narrative, my work is where I refer to policy that I think needs an update, but use a lot of moderation to address what nobody’s addressed yet.

Maybe I need a change of mindset. Working in America, of course my videocalls would pose a security risk to myself — but how exactly is it any different here? If I was among teens, I could play a game: “we have some words here, and I need you to put them in the OK circle or the NOT OK circle”.

They would need to discuss among themselves. You’d barely talk, just observe. And maybe you’d be surprised. I don’t speak English as a first language, but I tend to think that they’d be okay with “bad bitch”, “baddie”, “hottie”, “daddy”, “babe”, “thick” and so on. Is it the role of the teacher to ask: “so it’s okay if someone calls you a bitch?” — and then hear them explain: “I mean, yeah, it’s not a bad word for me, but a baddie is more like a girl who does what she wants, so I’m totally fine with it”. And the thick girls would get called thick and that would be fine. I wonder if that would cause social media stress.

Real life and media projections

But that’s not how the world sees it, and not how policy makers do either. Maybe that’s because of social media attention. Call someone famous a slut because of an Instagram picture, and watch what happens. You might get banned if you do it too often. You’ll get reports and the platform’s AI will send you a warning saying that “people don’t use this kind of language”. Disinformation, ladies and gentlemen. They absolutely do. And that’s the soft version of the game, as I’m sure you’re aware. Misrepresentation of teens can has been addressed within the media and within the legal frameworks, but not exactly as the core reason of moderation agencies, and probably not a minor point of stress at a social media company’s decision-making working spaces, not the spaces of regular users on social media, who might take this very seriously — or not.

We’re having to deal with a debate that says it’s okay to call your recently added contact a “whore” (if she’s showing interest), but not a “disgusting whore” (because, obviously, that’s detrimental to the pleasures of interaction, dangerously aggressive and demeaning). Twitter policy was updated so that users would be prohibited from using “dehumanizing language”. And we have to wonder: where’s the research? As of now, it’s in the hands of the second richest man in the world. Things happen fast, don’t they?

WFH, NSFW and social media stress

I’m just gonna go trashy for a bit: “wanking from home, no stress from work”. Seems legit? Of course that kind of language comes from a certain construct and niche. The people who were first looking for other people to have a flirty conversation might know more than you do. But first of all, not everyone uses the word “wanking”, and we seem to find a problem with those who are opposed to the practice of masturbation by all means. Second, of course we know it’s working, not wanking, that puts money on your bank account — not the wank account. If only there was a wank account… but here’s the last part: “not safe for work” is a term that users found to describe sexual content. How did we not notice that imposing work policy in our homes would become an issue?

Needless to say, the cases of domestic violence sore high during the worst periods of the pandemic, because people were just not getting along very well. We need our friends. We also need privacy. When deprived of these things, we became a wreck of nerves. But it wasn’t only that: in China, they made biometrics for everything, and today we see news about how you need your phone to use the subway. Should we copy that model? Americans certainly don’t think so, but Alexa wants to be in your toilet. Doing what, you’d wonder? Maybe that’s the appeal from Peloton, isn’t it? Such a great idea.

Problems you could be facing

Instead of feeds of news, you’d get a monitor of your health. At 2PM, you have a meeting. At 5PM, you’ll check on progress with a synchronized Calendar. Then you might be ready to go home, or have to stay in for a little longer. But you see, you’re not in the office. You might be ready to go watch TV. And what if your kid is playing X Box? Imagine if, in those massively online games, someone takes over their account that ends up compromising your work.

Instead of an earnings chart, or a marketing funnel with a projection of CRM, you’d have Kirby, Thanos or maybe an AK47. That would be distressing, wouldn’t it? But that’s not related to social media — the stress you may get from the situation of being at home and attending to way too many things at a time might be the reason why you’d feel on the verge of a breakdown.

Of course, there are many distractions at work. But the office used to be a space where people focused on their task at hand and the management informed the highest performances would be rewarded. Not everyone works at an office, of course. Then, it begs the question: what’s our reward? You’re probably baking bread all by yourself, if you live a happy life; maybe you’re asking for a lot of delivery food; if you’re not unemployed and on the margins of society, maybe at a lower level you’d open a tuna can and mix it with mayo, then some crackers to follow. But in terms of data, you have to keep things separate.

How exactly do we separate work from social media?

Do we? Should we? While the former refers to the culture, the latter refers to policy in development, constantly updated. The contexts which I referred to at the beginning are routinely coming back on our feeds, and ignoring them became a habit. That doesn’t mean, however, that we’re not interested or do not care. My life is separate from Ukraine. The fact that I eat rice and beans, maybe not quite. What we can do is to focus on the important, practical stuff. But you see, that makes us work too much and forget to live life. The life that a technology-immersed society envisioned for us doesn’t take into account that maybe I won’t be in the mood to get the latest financial developments in Europe. Hell, I’m in Brazil! But the global economy cares.

Social media became stressful when we started comparing living standards, but that only came with the possibility of communication. Naturally, those who could speak the language have led the way; but do these people know where we’re going? It matters to point out: this is, absolutely, an expectation. But most people are planning their next trip, instead of thinking about giving back to their communities.

The social media we see when looking for content on hashtags or accessing what the algorithm machine feeds us is a whole list of “gym” related videos, “hot” girl pictures or even “motivational” quotes to reproduce and “leadership” advice for us to apply. We know that is very different from a personal videocall, where you let go of everything around you. You might stop to say: “that was my neighbor’s kid”, or “sorry, there’s a construction going on here”. Being real, though, we don’t categorize adult content as social media because we don’t want groups of people to know what we’re looking at late at night. And then, what we have is words that sound a lot different than that.

What are social media companies doing, then?

There is a term called “whistleblower“. If there’s anything wrong happening inside a company, institution, conglomerate, enterprise, government: you can speak out. It’s hard to compare Julian Assange reporting on war crimes to Edward Snowden revealing a mass-surveillance program designed to spy on basically anyone with internet access. After them, since we’re talking about social media, came Frances Haugen and Peter Zatko. When people realize an ethical line has been trespassed, they act; but most of us do not, again, because social media has become a synonym of stress for those working closely with goals in security, brand identity and user experience.

In a more routine-based analysis, that might not be a case for concern. Everyone’s enjoying themselves. We laugh at stupid things. We share without caring — which might be a problem, but only if you’re picky. Socials and society are not the same, we all get it by now. Teaching people how to be more honest is probably worth the go. But that’s a role of parents, and some teachers are legally prohibited from doing so. That raises the question: what can we talk about? Aren’t we supposed to, collaboratively, improve social media? Isn’t the whole point to have a safe space for everyone, not just the ones willing to post and manage their content?

With content management, comes content moderation. You wouldn’t like to receive an overly intimate DM, so maybe you’d have to avoid posting a certain kind of picture. Probably because of stress, social media hasn’t done that work. It hasn’t said to people: “look, if this is how your page looks like, but you may get unwanted attention”. Instead, it introduced a list of things you can do. Instagram introduced restriction tools in 2019, but that doesn’t mean what a teenager allows is totally fine. They might have a circle where they allow just about anything, and we just don’t know about it.

But it’s not social media’s role to spy on teenagers. They can talk as much as they want. The problem is split into two main factors: whether to act when abusive language comes into play; whether to inform that language is being tracked. Teenagers took notice. The number of people who prefer communicating by taking random pictures of their ceiling is considerable. They also talk, not type: a case of paranoia, without a prescription or a word with the therapist. But it turns out that robots can help you solve issues, and so can algorithms. If you want motivation, trust TikTok to show you what’s up — or Reels on Instagram.

What these companies are not doing is to inform the population, regardless of age, how their data is an asset. We have new stuff getting traction. It’s not just the news shifting from one place to another; it’s an unsatisfied userbase of real people. Businesses may follow. For example, Pete Buttigieg has joined Post. Neil Gaiman, massively active writer, has gained a major following on Mastodon. These are less talked about events on the internet. But what we still don’t know is whether Twitch is a preparation for other kinds of livestream, for example.

So, what’s the social stress all about, then?

Well, we still need to talk about sex work. But we should reach common ground with the people involved in it. That is a hard task: are you going to contact them directly? How did you get to know them? What makes you think they have the time? If they reply, what’s the conversation going to be like? Do you have a skeleton for an interview? How do you think your questions will make them feel? Are you sure you can publish this stuff? How about the language moderation? Who’s going to be the audience?

We know that not everything on the internet is about sex. Increasingly, productivity tools ask for our data (just a click to sign in from Google) to integrate with other services. Once you do that, you’re good to go — but didn’t they just retrieve information about your entire life? Maybe you just have to accept it. And some people won’t — ever. Some people will say: privacy is an unalienable right of the worker, the citizen and the individual in equal measure. Does that have a solid legal standing? And what does the culture reveal? Further, in a context where so many rights are being taken away, how do you make the argument that this one should stay untouched?

The whole point of stress might be what we wanted to do with our lives 10 years ago and how we look at it now. And you can’t go back in time. Maybe some of us decided to fight for things that are, for sure, going to make the web a better place. The social media stress comes when we navigate different ages and their experiences, but not exclusively. We should think about our own experiences. In the end, we’re not looking forward to learning more about how kids play these days. It might be a problem if they’re carrying a dagger to school. But taking that aside, there’s no reason to worry. Unless we find a video on YouTube where a student practices ripping off a pillow with Swiss knife. Then, maybe some pills can do the trick, followed by a good conversation with mental health professionals.

More faces, less books: are we going somewhere else with digital literacy?

If you’re a man or a woman on the internet, inevitably, you’ll be led to explore certain trends on sites you’d never want your parents to find out you were visiting, and that’s a fact regardless of your age or profession. Well, at least, it was supposed to be, until Pornhub’s community manager Aria Nathaniel narrated how she told her mom she was working for a porn site, a topic mentioned by this blog previously. Inevitable is a strong word, but in this kind of “niche”, you’ll learn some new words, for sure. And then you’ll learn more. It’s not appropriate to address the tone and language while we’re debating a better public discourse practice, but it’s worth mentioning that the private talk is supposed to be private; then, remind you that certain “niches”, so to speak, will lack careful consideration on the kind of strategy used to promote their content. As they make more of these and content consumption starts to convert into practice, we enter a sort of danger zone: are we supposed to think that what we saw online is going to happen in real life? When it comes to sex, that is obviously a sensitive topic. But there are subtleties — always.

Take a look at Instagram’s explore feature. We know there’s an algorithm that makes us see certain things on top, according to what we’ve liked previously — and a sad lack of disclosure from the company on how previous data is inputted or not to configure this experience. If you take that into consideration, you’ll start to think that your activity linked to an email was compiled and translated into a bulk of suggestions; but that didn’t happen since the Android boom: Gmail required your sign in. Before that, we only had IP addresses, but let’s bear in mind that people in general didn’t even know what the hell that was — and many still don’t. We can choose a path: to address lack of knowledge of basic concepts in technology or to require people to know everything about digital in order to be successful, pretty much in anything. A number of exceptions granted, we’re choosing the latter. If Instagram was more of a Flickr, we’d see a lot more pictures of streets, buildings, trees and cloud patterns. It’s safe to say that a considerable number of posts will instead display people’s faces.

What data says

A study on body image conducted in 2020 by the Florida House Experience, “a healthcare institution that delivers quality, medically integrated personalized treatment for those suffering from Behavioral Health Disorders”, gave us some important data to look at, not from the perspective of tech companies, but of wellbeing. For tech companies, it would never be valid: only 1024 people answered the survey. But among the findings is the fact that over 50% of people need more than 20 likes on a selfie to feel good about themselves; the average number of pictures they take before sharing their favorite varies from 2 to 5. Considering that almost 3% of women only feel good with over 100 likes, you’d wonder who are the people with Snapscores above the one million milestone. As it turns out, Snap took notice and decided to protect sensitive information, but that is according to California Law and only applies there. If you can think less about the numbers and more about the context, it’s pretty simple: people are talking, and their conversations are, let’s put it this way, “sensitive”. But then, of course, now we have the numbers. If 3% of women need more than 100 likes to feel good about themselves, how many of those likes will convert in a DM? This isn’t addressed in the 2020 study. Also, it refers to Instagram, not Snapchat — a platform that started out with the basic principle of bringing privacy to conversations, which disappeared right after the recipient read them.

If you need 20 likes to feel good, you need 20 people to see your content. Chances are you’re going to have a larger number of people you’re following in the hopes of getting followed back, and with a strong enough network, your follower count won’t ever be a reason for feeling unseen. But chances are just that: chances. Let’s imagine a scenario here: it’s late at night, you feel chatty and bored out of your mind; it just wasn’t a very productive day, you had concerns and things to look back on, but now you want something different. You’re not in a relationship, and you keep thinking that displaying this on your bio would make people see you differently; instead, you have the snap on your insta. First question, parents: why would your kid put the snap name on Instagram? Second question: what’s the content in both? You see, you’ll have to trust me on this one: they don’t want you to know. But I’m not gonna say I do — because that’s just a fact. Even when I tried to understand what exactly was happening with younger generations, exponentially connected to more people every day, but in almost equal measure, rejecting connections and building bias in the most unethical ways imaginable, I couldn’t really get it. I wasn’t looking to understand factors in rejection, or ethics as a concept for different generations; it was the numbers that bothered me. I found myself represented, in a crazy but accurate parallel, in the socialist perception that so many have so little while so few have so much. The only possible outcome of my personal analysis, which wasn’t a scientific report published anywhere, was that rich people would hate my guts; but I had to deal with the fact that, for a great number of people as well, I shouldn’t be so interested in that kind of dissecting investigation. As it turns out, I would conclude later, teenagers are just that: teenagers. I wanted to understand how this “bias” is actually purely reproduced racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and generates a stronger than ever trolling culture, with connection to the most awful practices of web participation. But there were always other factors at stake.

It’s not just exposure

When I noticed, long ago, that body positivity was gaining momentum on the internet, I was getting less attached to my romantic partner, precisely because of the internet. I also wanted to stay away from “mainstream” platforms like Facebook, because I just didn’t want to share my thoughts with everyone on my network. My Instagram used to be quite random: subway shots, street signs, a house with the warmest shades of red brick I’d ever seen, cats looking lazy, food I’d just learned how to make, some angle of a musical instrument. Suddenly, a couple picture. That changed a lot. After the breakup, I didn’t find myself taking a lot of pictures of my face (I never liked my own appearance, being honest with myself; I learned to accept it). But I saw other people showing themselves — not like that, but maybe trying to feel seen. Eventually, I came across a whole different trend (thanks a lot, Tumblr): most of the girls I’d met never shared their contact info, but now everyone was using Instagram to show not just the face, but the tongue too. Mind you, that was before TikTok. Why? I never cared enough to know. But then I just tried to put the pieces together: showing off their bodies wasn’t acceptable; showing off their faces was. Having explicit conversations wasn’t acceptable; making implicit suggestions was. Yes, that’s exactly what you’re thinking: people were associating sex with faces. And I mean, fine. Who’s to judge? Like I mentioned, the “niches” you’ll come across are many. But how often were they doing that?

That makes me think of how the whole thing started. My first internet adventure wasn’t exactly an adventure, it was quite close to a relationship and quite close to an affair. I had to choose — literally. But the details aren’t the point, and it was such a long time ago that I wonder if that’s even true: having assimilated that relationships are built with the basic notion that you’re supposed to disclose most of what you’re doing to a counterpart, I struggle with the definition, and also to accept certain kinds of “relationships” I got into, later in my life. What I want to come back to is that, whether it was an adventure, an incitement, a fling, or a series of situations that “felt like an ONS” (but left both sides crying about it), there wasn’t much of an obsession with facial features. She was very into fashion. Her Tumblr was not easily digestible (most would cringe), but she dressed impeccably. And there you have it: instead of focusing on this aspect of yourself that you don’t want others to scrutinize, you direct them to something else. But it’s not something that started yesterday: artists have started fashion campaigns, advertising products like perfume or clothing, for many years; in fact, the world of advertising has invited in various sorts of public figures, and they obviously were “known faces”; but more than that, they became associated with something else, and that could be anything from a gambling website to a brand of dairy products. In the midst of our routine, we don’t have so much time, as it turns out, to scroll over pretty faces that we like, literally or cabalistically; we do what we have to do. Then, eventually, we’ll need some kind of relief, and that certain “niche” will turn into “fetish”.

You’ve probably seen girls selling “feet packs”. You’ve probably scrolled through “gym” videos. And you’re not required to say what other categories you’ve deliberately searched for — unless you’re reading this from a specific legal point of view. It matters to say that, in terms of laws, data is private and communications are slowly becoming more encrypted; it also matters to say that not everything that is said in private communications is welcome in our private lives, in real life — not just on the internet. It’s a very thin line, but people are too different for anyone to say where to draw the split. What we have to worry about is that not just our faces are being evaluated, to use a raw term. Whether you’re aware or not, everyone has a personal branding hustle and every action counts, so if we’re living more online than offline, the remote worker will be worried about a mistyped phone number on an Excel sheet while the internet influencer will apologize for mispronouncing someone’s name. Is that a good representation of what’s happening on the internet (phone numbers and pronunciation)? Not really. But coming back to Facebook and finally telling the end of the joke, making our profiles look appealing enough has become a skill on demand, while a lot of people who have mastered it can’t seem to understand what a narrative is made of: if those 3% of people who take over 26 selfies a day post every day, they'll collect thousands of face samples a month from one single person, but curiously enough, we can’t tell who can read them or if they’ll be devoted to the habit of reading at all. So less books, cause that’s boring; more faces, cause that’s hot — but can you read them? The joke is that, as of December 2022, Lady Gaga has 55 million followers on Facebook, but most young people have never heard about her. Would you bet on a pair of fives?

Did Google get this right? Location History is vague, but useful.

Just the other day, the thing I heard before going to sleep was a stranger saying: “guess what?” — and then I just sort of moaned feigning interest, actually tired and disappointed, as she continued — “I know where you live”. Before I could answer her, despite the numbness that we all feel once exposed to a kind of behavior that aims at your vulnerabilities to attack everything about you that, supposedly, people know very well, she disappeared. I’d debated this two years ago, with a student of mine: I was suggesting to him that the experience of talking to new people would be good to practice language skills, and I remember saying I’d found a browser extension that could identify the location of the person interacting with you, on the same specific “random chat” site where the girl came from — there are many instances of random chats today. He’s a CEO of a company working in development tools, so his advice was to definitely use it; I didn’t want to, but then the conversations changed a bit. Chatrooms; quick contacts who just met exchanging all sorts of messages; cameras on, off, or covered with something: it doesn’t matter. People are starting to say things because they think they should react in new ways to these “old people” on the internet disturbing their experience. But we want details.

Research in the UK, published by Ofcom (the British Office of Communications, run by government) shows that 187 thousand people visited Omegle in September 2021. You’d wonder if they made categories of interactions and built response strategies, which is doubtful, if you think about education. But there’s much more interesting stuff on the study, the “Online Nation Report 2022“: it says that users spent an average of 4 hours online, which seems like way too little; but doing what? And then we learn that 42 minutes are spent on Meta platforms (and several major companies are listed) while 1 hour and 45 minutes are spent on “others”. But what do you mean with “others”? Needless to say but valid to stress, it becomes hard to initiate dialogue on sensitive topics, if that becomes the main issue, hypothetically. Further, when the question is if you “feel free to be yourself online”, the answer is only 36% of them do. That is very revealing and should be a reason for major concern — seemingly, it’s not. When the question is if they can “share opinions and have a voice”, only 12% strongly agree, versus 6% who strongly disagree — you see, because free speech wins. The study also says that, by a small margin, “content harms” are a bigger problem (reported by 46% of people) than “contact harms” (45% point to this as the main issue); the “commercial harm” seems to pose a smaller risk (34% are worried about it). This could lead to important policy decisions, as the data is revealing only the direct response triggered by a question with a purpose; it doesn’t investigate how much teens and young adults, for example, know about the roles of advertising in the media they consume all day. Another very important finding shows that the risks of being online are, for 27% of people, “scams, fraud and phishing” (27% of users experienced that in 2021), while the big problem of the last decade, the “unwanted sexual message”, was cited by only 8%. And back to the first theme, but focusing on the other side, Ofcom says that 60% of women had experienced trolling, compared to 25% of men. If anyone still has doubts that Meta is the moderation champion of the internet, it matters to say that the study also found that 87% of adults use their communications platforms, WhatsApp being the most popular. But isn’t WhatsApp encrypted?

Women have a right to act they way they feel like. But on the internet, things got a little complicated when the new goal was to protect every woman from every harm, while not letting them speak about their possible benefits. Of course, you won’t see on this website an account of women organized to attack men because of their appearance, their financial means, their opinions and how they’ve articulated them; but that is a generous posture which acknowledges that the harms are real, I’m concerned with them, but it’s also undeniable that people, regardless of their gender (or sexual orientation, which should be free from judgment in the society we visualized long ago), want to experience the benefits of interactions with the opposing sex, and feel free to explore those. It turns out that when you have a constant state of vigilante culture acting on people’s subconscious, a woman feels entitled to say she knows where I live, while I’m supposed to be aware that this is probably because she’s received threats (whether on Snapchat or email, at school or wherever it was), most likely from men, and decided to fight back. But she also decided to say this to me, a blogger constantly posting about security in apps that track geolocation. For a woman on the internet, it’s acceptable to post a long Twitter thread saying that she got heavily monitored by her abusive boss, and maybe one time, when she had just finished listening to her favorite album, which reminded her of the beautiful relationship she had with the man she thought she was going to marry, but received a job proposal abroad and decided to move, a co-worker asked about him on WhatsApp, while she wasn’t even done sobbing to the soundtrack. All normal, nothing dystopian.

I just thought, maybe because of where I interacted with this person, that she was a troll. An article from the Atlantic suggests that the way to deal with trolls is to just ignore them; it also makes comments on anonymity, saying one should take responsibility for their words and actions, shedding light on the fact that online trolls are typically also offline trolls. While the psychological analysis might be more difficult to do, it’s a point to start: we’d like to preserve our reputation, and wouldn’t want other people finding out that we behave in a way seen mostly as negative; but we also learn, as the vehicle reminds us on a different linked story, that certain users are rewarded for abusive behavior, given the engagement they produce. The more pernicious, possibly non-complacent discussions are related to the not yet reported uses of the internet: if calling someone a bitch is light injury, sometimes even friendly, then what happens when you go down, and then keep going? Abusive behavior is called that because it exhibits a pattern, not seen as an isolated event, and context matters a lot — that’s why we have moderators, surveillance tools and the police itself, if you extend that to a more general view of abuse and violence, whether it’s discourse or action. But we’re navigating a dangerous path by attempting to market globalized postures and lifestyles in a world that will inevitably reject certain postures and lifestyles, for certain people.

It becomes relevant, if not top priority, to think about your own security. And many have said that we are carrying tracking devices in our pockets. This blog has alerted to this feature being used for malicious purposes, and also disclosed that security questions can force unwanted disclosures, when attention seems to be scaling up while it shouldn’t — and while it’s a user’s right, when it’s every user’s right, to have control over how data is processed and used. If every business had to worry about people coming into their workplace and wanting to steal something, nobody would do business. If every man or woman, young or old, had to worry about who might have access to their location and for what purpose they’d use this information, they’d certainly be less likely to go out at all. And while doing that, they’d be more careful about home office, which is what every company praised, with little training on best practices and, in my experience, a message “not to worry” about security or even bother that a certain tool was not accessible via Chrome, for instance, while Firefox made it possible. To put the blame in the companies that didn’t care for security configurations is to ask too much from people who have to worry about that in their own lives, and are trying to preserve an array of interoperations that requires strategic planning and clear policies. Facebook shows you every device you’re logged in from; them and Twitter, along with other companies, notify new logins via email, unless you opt out. These are ways of protecting users; but somehow, when we review our activity, there are logins we weren’t notified of. Then we have to ask: is it Google?

Google gave us pretty much everything we needed, and we’re not thankful enough. An entire generation grew up with the privilege of knowing the answer to a question simply by typing (or even asking out loud, after clicking an icon on the screen) what they wanted to know so badly. Our contacts are stored on our Android devices, the most popular operational system for smartphones in the world. We have documents, plenty of tools and YouTube alone could make us busy, entertained and inspired for as long as we need to, and more than that: the experience can get better based on how much we interact, giving feedback in the form of likes, comments and shares. But when it comes to our identification, it seems that there are things we don’t want people to know. Maybe I wouldn’t tell my Tinder date the song that made me cry the most this year, maybe I would; but definitely not my employer. In turn, I wouldn’t like my working buddies or my clients to know that I just checked in at this motel, and two phones were placed side by side. Unfortunately, this is where technology led us, and social media can mean one thing on the surface while it means another on a deeper level, where every step is analyzed. Without GPS, Uber wouldn’t exist. But whether location history can be used in creative ways instead of a surveillance tool (which has a clear, but debatable purpose when you think about minors, for example) is still something we can only hope for when we think of advertising, accepting that connectivity invites us to take more chances in life, instead of being enclosured in the same space for years on, waiting on a better life and the help of some divine entity to bring change for the better. Curiously, that might make us look onto the future we want, and the future we’ll actually have — in ways we’ll have to deal with more maturely than we currently are, for a better harmony in society.