Today’s issue is guest written by my colleague, Richard Nevins. As an Account Director on our Digital team and an alumnus of The New School, USC and The London School of Economics, Richard has a deeply informed perspective on all things digital.

Check out Richard's breakdown of the latest social media attempts at decreasing engagement in favor of a healthier experience. And of course, let us know what you think. Thanks — Chris
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The Well-Being Experiment

With billions of people around the world using social media, it's no surprise we've seen many forms of bad behavior, abuse and illegal activity over the years. Yesterday, Facebook released its latest
Transparency Report, which explained that the social network removed or actioned tens of millions of posts for violating its policies, and claimed it had proactively identified and removed content, even before it was flagged by users, 90% of the time or more.

Despite improvements in identifying and removing bad content, the volume of social posts and comments that violate platform policies continues to grow. And concerns about cyber-bullying, abusive behavior and other negative consequences have grown with them. As a result, social platforms have begun experimenting with ways to prevent such content from being posted in the first place — an effort 
to improve digital well-being.

Most of us can identify with the rush that comes along with our post being "Liked." But research over the years has shown that the drive to seek validation through social media "Likes" can take a serious toll on mental health. A
study in the Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology found that use of social media can be linked to symptoms of depression, and explained that “people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others.”
With those dynamics in mind, social networks like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have recently announced experiments aimed at improving mental health and general well-being among users:
  • Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri announced that the photo sharing app will test hiding the "Like" counts that appear below a user’s photo in the United States. This test, which has already been rolled out in other territories like Canada and Australia, is intended to prevent Instagram users from judging posts based on the number of "Likes" accrued. Post "Likes" will still be visible for the user who publishes photos.
  • YouTube recently introduced a similar change to how it displays subscriber counts, in an effort to prevent people from focusing too much on the daily increase or decrease in a channel’s subscriber numbers. 
  • Twitter has revealed that it's rolling out a number of experiments to encourage better behavior by users, including adding an easy way to include an emoji with a retweet to allow users to quickly express their feelings about the tweet they are sharing, and prompting users to better explain their replies to others’ tweets, including asking them to say why they disagree with somebody. 
  • Facebook has updated its app to give users more control over how those nagging red notification dots are used, and to permanently disable them for portions of the app that a user doesn’t typically use. This welcomed change may help to improve the well-being of users who obsessively seek to dismiss notifications that distract their attention.
Many of these experiments have just begun, and their impact cannot yet be fully known. Still, given increased concern around mental health as we collectively spend more time on social media, this should be seen as a positive step. If these tests are successful, we can expect social media to be more appealing and safe for consumers to continue to use — a beneficial outcome for brands, social networks and their users.
Richard Nevins
As always, if you find this newsletter valuable we would be grateful if you encouraged others to sign up by directing them here.
What We're Reading
Platform Dominance
The Dark Psychology of Social Networks
By Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell, The Atlantic

The social psychologist Mark Leary coined the term "sociometer" to describe the inner mental gauge that tells us, moment by moment, how we’re doing in the eyes of others. We don’t really need self-esteem, Leary argued; rather, the evolutionary imperative is to get others to see us as desirable partners for various kinds of relationships. Social media, with its displays of "Likes," friends, followers and retweets, has pulled our sociometers out of our private thoughts and posted them for all to see.

Platform Dominance
Influencers Say They’re Not Worried About Instagram Likes Being Hidden — In Fact, They Support It
By Tanya Chen and Stephanie McNeal, BuzzFeed News

After Instagram's latest announcement, some media outlets warned the change could have a negative impact on the influencer marketing economy. But many influencers, with followings both large and small, said they were actually in favor of the change. In fact, most said they think it's not only a sensible move — it might give them even more leverage for business opportunities.

Synthetic Content
The Influencer Scientists Debunking Online Misinformation 
By Emma Grey Ellis, Wired

The inevitable imperfections of social media platforms’ misinformation nets has given rise to a whole new class of online creator: the scientist-influencer debunking false information in their area of expertise. These influencers can be found on every platform from Facebook to Twitter, but apolitical debunkers tend to live on Instagram and YouTube (or often both), because that’s where “lifestyle” misinformation gets traction.

Media Forensics
Left Right Center: Podcasts Are Vying to Control the Impeachment Narrative
By Michael Calderone, Politico

Since late September, the unfolding story of President Donald Trump and his allies pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Bidens as the U.S. withheld military aid has sparked a podcast frenzy, with news organizations such as CNN, NBC News, Vox, and WNYC quickly rolling out shows to seize on the heightened interest.

Platform Dominance
Tourists to China Can Finally Use the Country’s Massively Popular Mobile Payment Systems
By Arjun Kharpal, CNBC

For foreign travelers to China, this announcement will unlock a much more convenient way to pay for items in China. WeChat Pay and AliPay are two of the most common ways of making purchases and settling debts throughout China, and now they will accept foreign funds via international credit or debit cards. 

Media Forensics
Skin Care Brand Sunday Riley Wrote Fake Sephora Reviews for Almost Two Years, FTC Says
By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Employees of skincare brand Sunday Riley were directed to post fake reviews of the company’s products online, according to a consent order issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States. The company’s founder frequently urged employees to write inauthentic positive reviews, and ‘downvote’ negative reviews, on the website of major beauty retailer Sephora. Employees were even instructed on how to use virtual private network (VPN) technology to hide their tracks, according to the FTC’s complaint.

Content Experience
New ‘Watch Parties’ Feature Lets Streamers Watch Amazon Prime with their Viewers on Twitch
By Bijan Stephen, The Verge

The Amazon-owned streaming video site Twitch is most well-known as the place to watch live streamed gaming and esports videos, but now it is tapping into the library of films and TV shows licensed by its corporate sibling Amazon Prime Video with a new feature called Watch Parties. Twitch users who have Amazon Prime subscriptions will be able to watch shows including Amazon Prime originals like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, as well as movies like Mission Impossible: Fallout, together, with their favorite streamers. This expansion of streaming content beyond gaming builds on Twitch’s Thursday Night Football program, which allows gamers to watch select NFL games together with live commentary from Twitch streamers.

Emerging Technology
New York Times Readerscope Turns Article Data into Action
By Kendell Timmers, International News Media Association

To better understand its readers and what’s important to them, The Times built a machine learning-driven data tool called Readerscope. It reveals who is reading what and where when accessing The Times digitally. Originating from the company’s efforts to help expand readership outside of the United States, the tool uses anonymised data to visualise which topics certain audience segments are interested in at different time periods and the top articles that are being read on the site for context.

Deep Take
The 50 Most Important Websites of All Time
By Adam K. Raymond, Popular Mechanics
On October 29th the Internet celebrated its 50th anniversary, marking half a century since the first message was transmitted between two networked computers at the University of California, Los Angeles. In the 50 years since that message (‘Lo’) traveled through the first “series of tubes” that became the Internet, web culture has developed by leaps and bounds. From the earliest ‘virtual communities’ on discussion boards like USENET and BBS, to the rise of web portals like AOL and the later dominance of the World Wide Web, Popular Mechanics takes a look back at the 50 Most Important Websites of the Internet’s first 50 years.
Copyright © 2019 Weber Shandwick

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