Social Media Whac-a-Mole

With the US Presidential election rapidly approaching, social media companies are scrambling to eliminate interference on their platforms. Both Twitter and Facebook, the two main players, have made changes to their policies and practices.

Some months ago, Twitter decided to ban all political ads. More recently, Twitter enforced its policies more consistently when it started to attach messages and notifications to some of President Trump’s tweets. This was to alert other users that the tweets contained disinformation.

Facebook had a different approach by allowing political ads to run. However, Facebook recently announced that political ads will be banned from the platform one week before election. Additionally, Facebook has a Voting Information site to provide people with facts about how/where to vote in their State.

Will any of this make a difference? Maybe, maybe not.

My impression is that social media companies are playing a giant game of Whac-a-Mole IRL (i.e., in real life). They are constantly catching up and creating “fixes” reactively.

The election has been a problem for social media companies since the 2016 Presidential election, likely even before. Initially M. Zuckerberg denied that Facebook influenced the election. He soon acknowledged the inherent power of a social media platform to reach billions of people. The control given to users to post what they want, e.g., misinformation/disinformation/information, put Facebook in a challenging position. How could they control the content? Should this be their responsibility?

This is in addition to all the other types of challenges facing the global social media platforms such as how to control global language or manage the “infodemic“. Without proper foresight, the companies only react instead of planning adequately for these types of scenarios.

Why Aren’t Social Media Companies More Proactive?

It’s interesting to consider how social media companies ended up in these positions. My guess is there was too much ego and not enough imagination or cynicism in the initial brainstorming sessions. Perhaps the companies didn’t hire enough post-apocalyptic sci-fi enthusiasts who could have predicted some of these scenarios happening.

Honestly, I was shocked so many years ago when Zuckerberg initially denied Facebook played a role in the 2016 Presidential election.

People put their faith so blindly in technology and the internet, that it will only be used for good. However, since the internet’s inception, it has always had a “dark” side. Going forward, all of these aspects need to be considered ahead of time.

What to do When Your Smartphone Gets Wet

About four years after my smartphone and I took an unexpected dunk in Lake Ontario, I found myself in a similar situation. While in a shallow pool, my phone slipped from my fingers. Plunk – right in the water. Argh!

After the last mishap, I purchased a waterproof phone. It wasn’t. *sigh* Initially, everything seemed ok with the wet phone. It wasn’t.

Moments later my phone shut itself off. I mistakenly turned it back on before the phone shut off again to prevent overheating. This time I left it alone.

At home, I removed the sim card and buried it in rice. I used the same rice from four years ago. Twenty-four hours later I anxiously pressed the power button. I can still access everything, but the charge port won’t connect. Fortunately we have a wireless charger.

Throughout the ordeal, I had two main concerns: my photos and how to contact emergency services. After the previous incident four years ago, I moved things off my phone and online. The one exception was the photos. I still haven’t found a good system for managing photos in the cloud.

My other concern was how to contact emergency services. Even though I have an iPad and a computer, neither of those could have been used to call for help. We’re so reliant on our smartphones. It’s easy to forget that in addition to everything it does, it’s also our only way to call 911.

First Steps After Your Smartphone Gets Wet

  1. Stay calm!
  2. Turn it off, immediately.
  3. Remove sim and memory cards and battery.
  4. Dry off as much water as possible. Try to shake it out of the ports.
  5. Let it dry completely (at least 24 hours) before turning it on again. Or before plugging in your charger.
  6. Even if your phone does work, use this as a learning opportunity to move things to the cloud, or invest in better backup systems.

Does Rice Work for Drying Out a Smartphone?

I’ve used rice twice to dry out my soggy smartphone. It’s hard to know if the rice really worked, or if the phone dried out on its own naturally. I don’t know if the rice made a difference. But if you think it works, go for it!

Then save the rice, label it, and store it in a safe place you’ll remember for the next time.

Why Mail-In Voting Is Problematic for the US Presidential Election

This November I will be mailing an absentee ballot for the US presidential election. It is the fourth time I’ve voted this way. In 12 years, the process remains old fashioned, despite the abundance of better options available.

Once every 4 years, I receive an email from my voting district in the States. Attached is an excel file with a list of candidates and a form to print out. The form consists of tightly-spaced rows with no margins. After reviewing the excel sheet, I print the form. Then hand write in my selections.

Once every 4 years, I feel irritated about the length and clunkiness of the US voting process. Prior to receiving my voting information, I must register anew for each election.

This year, a local chapter of Democrats Abroad contacted me with an easy way to register. I felt encouraged that I could fill out and submit the form on my phone. Until I read the fine print. One annoying step left. I have to print it out and send a paper copy. This isn’t the same process as in other States.

Why US Voting Isn’t Standardized

Voting in the US is problematic for many reasons. However, one of the biggest challenges is the lack of standardization in the process. Every State, and sometimes even districts within States, does things differently. States have different timelines about how soon a person can register to vote prior to an election. States have different methods of voting ranging from electronic to pen & paper, plus everything in between.

I couldn’t think about all the issues caused by a lack of standardization without also considering who establishes the standards. Or who should be establishing them. Or if there is one method of voting that could be used by everyone (i.e., in-person vs. electronic vs. paper, etc.).

Why Can’t US Voting Be Modernized?

In 2020, I’m amazed mail-in votes are a popular alternative to voting in-person. It makes sense to think about maintaining social distancing for November. However, why aren’t modern alternatives being considered such as voting electronically? What about being able to register electronically without the added annoyance of also mailing a paper copy?

So much information, disinformation, and misinformation is already flying around about the 2020 US Presidential Elections. Perhaps it has made people distrustful of modern, technology-driven solutions. And sometimes the best way to counter cyber threats is with a low-tech solution, like paper mail-in ballots.

Upping the Online Shopping Game

The pandemic caused swift changes. Some retailers had to move their businesses online practically overnight. They also had to rethink processes about getting goods to customers. And for many of them, their online resources were lacking.

Shopping online is not new. What is new is how normal this is becoming. Retailers need to offer better and more robust online experiences. In addition to improved search options, photos of items and information should be readily available. Better yet, maybe retailers could offer a virtual reality shopping experience.

Grocery Shopping Online – The New Normal

In the early weeks of the pandemic, it was impossible to schedule a grocery pick-up. Time slots were booked solid weeks in advance. Going to the store in-person meant long waits. Or risking exposure to a virus. This was before we knew much about it and how it was transmitted.

Without a lot of great options, we shopped online at the grocery store. It took longer than if I had gone in person. Poor website construction and miserable searching options were the cause. It took hours to find all the items on our grocery list.

Searching on the websites was challenging. Grocery stores contain thousands of items. Being able to narrow down a search is essential. However, the websites offered few options to accomplish this. For example, I usually buy alternative milk, i.e., soy, rice, oat, etc. Shopping in-person for this is easy. I go to the aisle containing all the options and make a selection.

Online shopping, however, turned this into a lengthy process. I was unable to view all the different types of milk at once. I either had to search by brand or by type (e.g., soy, rice, oat). But for people like me, who alternate between all the types, it was challenging.

I’m a Label Reader

It’s true. I read labels for everything. Labels are important. They tell us, as consumers, a lot of information about what we’re buying. For example, clothing labels indicate washing instructions, the country of manufacture, and the materials used. This is all information I care about.

Now that I’m forced to shop online for most things, finding this information is difficult. In many cases, I had to contact retailers and vendors directly to discover where something was manufactured, or what it was made out of.

Consequently, the online experience ended up taking more time than going in person.

The Paradox of Technology

The allure of technology is that it seduces us into thinking it makes everything easier. However, that is not always the case.

I love my many technological devices. In some ways they have improved and simplified my life. Yet in other ways, they have made my life more complex.

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier. Therefore it should be simple to use. Yet, I’m always amazed at how many times I feel challenged by small things. For example, my friend and I tried to have a video call the other week. Naturally, we didn’t use any of the same apps. After a lot of back and forth, involving regular phone calls, we finally connected through video. And then the video stopped working. It was very frustrating.

Tethered To Technology

I rely on my devices, primarily my smartphone. To be completely honest, it borders on an addiction. I use it for almost everything, especially when I’m on the go. By everything I mean email, phone/video calls, directions & maps, looking things up, shopping, etc. While it is awesome to have so much available at my fingertips, the downside is I always need a power source.

My mother recently lost power and internet due to a storm. The electricity was restored before internet. For a brief moment, she wished it had been the other way around. We’ve all become so dependent on the internet and being “connected”, it’s hard to imagine living without it.

Learning New Skills

Perhaps the most perplexing part about using technology is the assumption that it’s easy to use. Or that younger people are naturally good at it. Learning how to use technology is a skill that requires education, like any other skill we learn.

Younger people are usually more comfortable with technology. They’ve been exposed to it from a young age. But they still need to be taught how to use it effectively.

Along with learning how to use technology, comes the added task of learning how to protect yourself. By protect yourself I mean safeguarding your passwords, personal information, sensitive financial or health information, etc.

Many of us are not taught the most basic skills to adjust the settings on our devices. (Read about it here.) Or how to do privacy checks on our devices. Or why these things are important.

Covid-19 and the Big Data Dilemma

We have all faced the same burden since the pandemic started in March. We have too much information and not enough of it. Living with both scenarios might sound strange. However, that’s the dilemma we’re in.

Tons of data is being generated, collected, and analyzed. Yet, some questions are never answered. Sometimes the answer changes. Other times the answer generates new questions.

Too much data with too many discrepancies and different variables creates challenges. Equally challenging is having an abundance of data, but not the right data. Many questions are still unanswered.

The Challenge with Too Much Information

Each country has their own method for testing and reporting on Covid-19 cases. Within each country, testing/reporting differences sometimes exist between states/provinces. Or variations at local levels.

Additionally, lots of other data is being generated or collected on issues related to the pandemic. One example I found interesting was a decreased number of babies being admitted to the NICU, in some places.

A lot of data is available, but it can’t be analyzed accurately. For example, several countries have started reopening their school systems. However, each country used a different method and reported on various elements. Some countries did more testing. Others did a more phased approach. Others are using a mix of online and in-person education.

Countries looking to reopen schools must review the wide range of options available. Then try to create a policy and propose a plan to keep children safe. But couldn’t this be simpler if some common elements existed between all the data sets? Or if some of the collection methods were standardized?

Basing decisions on available data comes with risks, especially when there are inconsistencies in the data creation process.

The Challenge with Too Little Information

We still don’t have enough information yet to answer important questions. For example, how long are people immune? What percentage of the population is asymptomatic? Do we still need to wash our groceries? Or transfer takeout food to different containers? Why can’t we do a better job of tracking and distributing PPE to people who really need it?

The challenge of having so much data available is making sure the right data is being collected. Otherwise, we’re all just trying to make sense from all the “noise.” Too much information and not enough of it is useful to give us the answers we need.