The great book of pseudonyms

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Should Facebook users be allowed to have fake names?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. January 6, 2016

Before we get into the debate of whether or not having a fake name on Facebook is justified, we must first understand why people would want to use an alias to begin with. The Internet is a public place, and like all public places, once we choose to be there, we cannot control what other people will do around us. The way we dress, the things we say, and pretty much all our actions can be visible. Visibility is sometimes seen as a vulnerability. Some people want fake names so they can conceal their account from stalkers, exes, co-workers, family members, etc. Other people just want to be funny, and use joke names to do so.

Facebook’s policy is not heavily enforced, so if you do want to use a fake name, you can do so and probably never get caught for it. However, I don’t believe you should. Facebook is equipped with numerous security features that enable you to block certain people from viewing your account, in addition to a privacy setting that cloaks all your activities until you give permission not to.

If you have a public persona, like a stage name or pseudonym, you can create a Facebook Page—which pretty much acts the same as a profile—with some limited functionalities. This is great for interacting with those who don’t know you personally. You can monitor and moderate it as you please.

Some worry about the security on Facebook. The fear of Big Brother is one that lingers on their skin every time they enter their real name into a computer system, but believe me, there is more data locked in your credit card and smartphone than there is on your Facebook account. Who cares if the government sees what you are posting? As long as you aren’t plotting a terrorist attack, you’ll be fine. On top of that, if someone wants to find out your real identity, they can do it; a fake name is the crappiest form of security. You don’t need a front door to break into a house; there are many ways to get in.

For the other point, joke names are funny, sure. But as far as comedy goes, it doesn’t have strong sustaining power. After a while, even the friends who found your joke name humourous will become a little annoyed, having to think twice when trying to invite you to an event because they are used to thinking of you by your real name. If you have a nickname that everybody uses to refer to you, that is a different story.

Our names are a part of our identity. While I believe there should be a certain amount of freedom on the Internet, I also believe that we should be visible in a space with so many dark corners. We can add locks, but we shouldn’t add to the shadows. If you don’t want people to see pictures of your vacation, don’t post it. If you are getting harassed, inform the authorities. If you are having an identity crisis, seek help. Remember that on Facebook nobody knows you are a dog—but they should if you are, shouldn’t they?

Best to worst communities on social media

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Where to post, comment, and get the response you want

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. October 16, 2015

Online communities bring people together, and they also tear them apart. So, often we delete accounts, block “friends,” and end up arguing with a troll over something that doesn’t even matter. Social media has become the Wild West, a lawless avenue for people to act horribly, and then defend themselves with crude language and bad grammar. In this article, I’ll look at my experience with the most popular social networks and examine how we behave when things are at their best and worst.

Reddit: There is an organized chaos to Reddit that is beautiful. People who are active on the network govern each other quite effectively. While identity does not ever need to be revealed, the “karma” system gives everyone power. It’s democracy at its finest. Every person has the right to vote up or down a post, link, or comment. This means bullshit sinks to the bottom and only the best is left on top. It’s a great place to get an honest opinion—brutally honest—without much hostility.

LinkedIn: Things never really get bad on LinkedIn, but it never really gets that great either. Now and then someone will write a very thoughtful recommendation for you or endorse one of your skills, but it’s never the place to get into any serious debate. It’s a professional community, and it demands respect. It does that effectively by making every commenter, poster, and even viewer accountable for his or her actions. You can’t creep your ex-girlfriend’s LinkedIn page without her knowing. Overall, you are always safe on LinkedIn, as safe as you would be at a networking event.

Facebook: If LinkedIn is a networking event, Facebook is a full-blown party. I don’t need to go into detail about what Facebook is, but literally anything can happen when such a wide variety of emotions collide. Some people are trying to impress everyone. Some are trying to get sympathy. Some are trying to get others to do something or “like” something. Yep, it’s a party all right. You’ll be okay on Facebook if you are genuine. Beware, though. Since Facebook encompass people within your circle, their honesty might hurt you in real life. A bit of censorship is advised.

Twitter: Twitter allows you to target the rich and famous, as well as your own lowly followers, and reach out to all of them. Twitter is effective, but it has to be earned. You have to climb the Twitter ladder. Once you have power (i.e., a top-notch Klout score), you need to wield it responsibly. Failure to do so, or tweeting 140 characters that don’t fit others’ points-of-view will be met with a barrage of responses. The good stuff is highlighted, but the bad stuff will not be ignored on Twitter.

YouTube: I don’t know what it is about videos that causes people to be such unsophisticated, racist, sexist, and offensive assholes. But they do. If you post a video on YouTube, it might just end up being forgotten deep in the rabbit hole of user-generated content, or it’ll go viral and you’ll have to answer for it. Haters are going to hate, and, believe me, like how a stagnant pond in July breeds mosquitoes, YouTube breeds classless idiots with little good to say.

Like the real thing

Image via Thinkstock

Your social media profile is not a measuring stick for success

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published by The Other Press. March 23, 2015

I can be certain that when I write a Facebook post, someone will read it. There are few other places where you can push a message publicly and have it received by those who you intended it for. If I want a close group of friends to read my inside joke I can link them to it. If I want to omit my colleagues from my radical political point of views—should I have any—I can simply adjust the privacy settings. We are all media producing outlets, however, today we aren’t using social media to present anything of value, we are merely shouting into the void, uttering mundane nothings, and expecting praise, affirmation, or approval in return.

We are living in an age where we are “liking,” “retweeting,” and “sharing” too casually. The reason is because the gamified aspect of social media is so addicting. We feel compelled to let people know about our meals, our feelings, our day at work, our vacation spot, our new relationships, our athletic achievements, and many other not-so-pivotal details of our lives. We present the part of ourselves we want people to see. We are our own public relations manager, but the thing is it always comes across as contrived, arrogant, or needy.

Everything we post today is measured as if “likes” have any merit to our real experiences. They don’t. So what? Liking is fun. It’s good for the human spirit. Sure it nurtures a narcissistic aspect of our being, but what harm does that do? Why can’t we like whatever we feel like liking? Why can’t we follow whomever we feel like following?

The thing with Facebook and other social media algorithms is that your feed impacts your friends. You are representing all the boring bullshit you are liking and sharing. Marketers see your behaviour and in return present more branded material on your news feed, more Buzzfeed surveys, and more peer-to-peer propaganda. By liking, commenting, and sharing content you are not invested in, you are inadvertently spamming your fellow followers, friends, and fans. If you don’t value the content and you don’t believe your social media community will appreciate it, don’t like it.

You are not obligated to like your best friends’ posts about their lunches or the way the Starbucks employee messed up in spelling their names. You are not obligated to like a news article your mother shared. Social media does a fine job recycling content. And with the new trending column on the side of Facebook, you really don’t need to share any pertinent stories at all; nobody is relying on you for the breaking news.

On social media, we often get our priorities mixed up. We get derailed from the informative and valued path into a trivial and anecdotal direction. Take the black and blue optical illusion dress we all saw earlier this year on social media. We couldn’t stop talking about it, because people wouldn’t stop talking about it. That’s the thing; it’s a vicious cycle. If you want a topic to die, you need to stop contributing to it. That’s why we should like, comment, and share sparingly.

Facebook down

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The effects of a social media blackout

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Oct. 2013

On October 21, Facebook users experienced a brief outage caused by network maintenance. Although recovery was swift and the team at Facebook was quick to apologize, I couldn’t ignore the uproar of such an occurrence. Am I crazy to be concerned about such a minuscule problem?

I need to step back for a moment and remember my life before social media: before Twitter, LinkedIn, Myspace, and even Nexopia. I was a 14-year-old high school student waiting patiently for a phone call on a Saturday afternoon. I was in grade eight, procrastinating over homework by watching television and taking naps. But how would I behave now, a decade later? Would my life be any different?

Facebook is more than just a tool to communicate with friends and plan events: businesses use it to market, and people use it as a news source. There is a lot of other noise buzzing about on social media, like adorable cat pictures, inspirational quotes, and public displays of affection, and these would be the greatest loss; Facebook allows us to share little slices of life any time we want.

Social media is a casual means of communication. Phone calls have become too intrusive, emails feel too professional, and meeting in person is too time-consuming. For me, the first real consequence of social media’s demise would be a sudden increase in text messaging.

As time passed and Facebook remained broken, I’d begin to lose contact with certain people. Those “friends” and “followers” who aren’t affecting my real life would fade away. That random girl at the bar, my science fair partner in high school, and the manager at the restaurant where I worked for a few months one summer would all be gone. You might be a “friend” on Facebook, but if you don’t have my number, we’re not really friends in my book. Sorry.

Because of social media, the act of verbally catching up is virtually obsolete: job promotions, new relationships, and exotic vacations are all displayed online for everyone to see. Without this, people at parties would spend more time indulging others with “what’s new,” and less time simply saying, “Oh, you know.” No, I don’t know—how would I know?

There is no doubt that my Facebook persona is much cooler than the real me. That’s because I only publicize good things. I have full control, where I don’t have full control of real life. The Internet is a marketplace and I’m the brand. I have to make my Facebook page cool. I go on trips and take photographs, I share interesting content and creations, and I interact with my “friends” even though I barely ever get to see them. I make all those things happen.

I’d like to believe that without Facebook, I’d still act the same. To me, the platform is nothing more than a scrapbook. Sure, it’s nice to look back and see what other people have been up to, but I’d rather look ahead. Because in the future, there might be a solar flare that would erase all the material online—then what will we “like?”

Facebook Not Forever: The Social Media Giant is Over the Hill

Formerly published in Techvibes. 

I was late to start: I opened my Facebook account around 2007, when all my other high school friends were advocating it and praising about the innovative capability to make events, share pictures, and occasionally poke each other.

I remember feeling hesitant when signing up for the account—I knew I was opening a Pandora’s box. I would never be the same.

Over six years later I have shared a lot of good times on Facebook. But my attitude towards it has changed multiple times over the course of my active account. I began by simply using it as a social hangout. Then I used it as a professional networking platform to seek work and experiences. Today, it’s just a place for me to keep tidbits of my life and to check in with old friends that I don’t get to see in person.

So when news about the gradual decline of youth engagement in Facebook surfaced, I was far from surprised.

What does the word “decline” even mean in the Facebook world? After all, the social media platform has approximately 1.2 billion active users. It seems everybody we know have Facebook—and that is part of the problem. The younger generation will never feel the liberty of social networking if Mom and Dad are creeping about, commenting on pictures and liking posts.

It’s true; we, the mass, are in fact making Facebook lame. This proves that the life expectancy of social media only has the longevity of the generation that pioneered it.

Success is the best poison any company can hope for and Facebook is coping with the repercussions now. Competitors that were once dominated have changed their strategy from facing the giant head on to luring the aging youth away like the Pied Piper. In a survey measuring the most important social media platform for teens done by Piper Jaffray & Co., 26% said Twitter is the most important as of Fall 2013 and 23% said Instagram is most important, matching Facebook (also 23%), which dropped from 42% a year ago.

Twitter and Instagram can obviously celebrate their accomplishment, but they aren’t Facebook’s only competition today. Messaging apps, although are smaller, are as intimidating as any other competitors on the communication market. This case was proven when Facebook offered a generous $3-billion to buy the ephemeral picture and text messaging app Snapchat.

The startup founded in 2011 by a couple of Standford students turned down the offer. Many thought they were insane—but I don’t.

I believe mobile is the future and that is where Facebook will lose the youth. Sure, they have their own messaging app, but with so many different ways to chat, not even SMS is safe, let alone Facebook’s mediocre application. The rise of Whatsapp, the resurgence of BBM, and the novelty of Snapchat will all act as alternatives for a text-heavy world that can often get very boring, especially for generations with shorter attention spans.

In 2007, I imagined my relationship with Facebook in the future. I saw myself as this distracted creature with a habitual tendency to check up on my network of friends for no reason. I am now that being—and if the younger generation saw me, they would think I’m so not cool.

But while the coolness and popularity of Facebook has declined significantly since the early 2000s, that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. Like phone numbers, emails and postal codes, Facebook accounts will just be another thing modern people use in their daily lives without acknowledgement.

It might not be hip or trendy, but it’s still necessary. And some might say that is the best accomplishment. And for the moment the Zuckerberg camp can breathe a sigh of relief: they’re not Myspace. Yet.