The Social Dilemma

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix; Documentary; Not rated.

If you’ve got a kid constantly glued to their phone (which is just about every kid), this documentary may be very frightening.

The Social Dilemma, much like another Netflix doc The Great Hack (nominated for an Emmy), explores the insidious nature of social media — and how it may be controlling us. While The Great Hack looked at election manipulation, The Social Dilemma examines how algorithms are attempting to control our minute-by-minute attention — all in order to serve advertisers looking to attract eyeballs — with dangerous consequences.

Through interviews with former employees of the big tech companies and dramatic scenarios, the documentary lays out the case that social media, in its conquest to capture our attention (much like a drug), is manipulating our actions and our very perception of the world around us. To monopolize viewers’ attention, algorithms serve up a warped world that is only designed to do just that — keep us engaged. The content that it delivers is inconsequential to the impersonal algorithm (dramatically portrayed by actor Vincent Kartheiser, who many may remember from “Mad Men”), which doesn’t care how violent, slanted or downright untrue that content is. In fact, the more incendiary or untruthful, the more engaging that content is. All the algorithm (Kartheiser) cares about is how long it can keep a subject’s attention.

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The fictional sections of this hybrid doc — in which actors portray the effects of social media — work to dramatize digital control, but not always to a great effect. Some of the scenarios seem a bit overdrawn. Still, the actors help illustrate the real-world implications of social media, and in the case of Kartheiser (playing the algorithm trying to get the actors’ attention), personify the intentions of an abstract concept that many may find hard to understand.

Indeed, it is control that the algorithm wants — control of our time. And, in taking that control, the algorithm pushes our thinking and actions in directions that they might not have gone otherwise.

One of the most shocking moments in the documentary is when a tech exec — who admits to being addicted to social media — says he won’t let his children have screen time.

If social media is so dangerous that its creators won’t let their own children use it, why should we?

‘Cuties’ Director Responds to Media, Political Backlash

NEWS ANALYSIS — In an era of hyper-partisan politics during an election year, Netflix’s French-language film Cuties, about an 11-year-old girl from Senegal who joins a dance troupe to escape an overbearing mother, has found a perfect storm.

No issue riles people more than child endangerment and/or exploitation. Throw in the Internet and social media, and incendiary charges of sexualization of underage girls quickly morph into child pornography and worse.

That’s the reality Netflix and Cuties director Maimouna Doucouré find themselves in as national politicians, parent groups and right-wing media jump on the bandwagon of condemnation — with pitched calls to boycott the film and cancel Netflix subscriptions across social media (#CancelNetflix).

Former presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) called Cuties “child porn” on Twitter, claiming the movie would “certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles [and] help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.”

Netflix says the movie projects the opposite message.

Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” the service said in a statement. “It’s an award-winning film [Sundance Film Festival] and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”

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Regardless, Netflix has no less than three petitions circulating on Change.org totaling almost 1 million supporters seeking to either remove the movie or drop the service. The platform is undermined in part by its own content tracking metric that registers a viewer after just two minutes. As a result, Cuties — despite requiring English-language captions for most American viewers — is trending as the 7th most-popular program on the platform after launching on Sept. 9.

Then a Sept. 14 report from research firm YipitData suggested Netflix was experiencing record churn, or subscribers not renewing service, with eight times more subs dropping the service on Sept. 12 than did in August, according to Fox Business. Netflix, per policy, does not report churn data. It ended the most-recent fiscal period with 193 million subscribers.

When Netflix tried to soften the movie’s marketing by replacing images of the young female characters in suggestive dance poses, critics only amplified their response.

“By removing the offensive poster and replacing it with a more innocuous one, Netflix might actually have made the situation worse by suggesting that Cuties is nothing more than a cute, coming-of-age movie,” Melissa Henson, program director for the Parents Television Council, a non-partisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment, said in a statement.

In a virtual interview hosted by French cinema’s UniFrance, director Doucouré appeared taken aback by the media criticism and social backlash.

“The most import thing is to watch the film and understand we have the same fight [against child exploitation],” Doucouré said, adding she thought the film would be accepted in the U.S. despite differences between French and American culture.

“It played to Sundance and was watched by American people there; I met the public there and they really saw that the film is about a universal issue,” Doucouré said. “It’s not about French society — the hyper-sexualization of children happens through social media and social media is everywhere. People [at Sundance] agreed with that.”

Netflix reports third-quarter fiscal earnings (ending Sept. 30) on Oct. 15.

Ex-Disney+ Boss Kevin Mayer Quits as TikTok CEO

Kevin Mayer, who helped launch and lead Disney+, has resigned as CEO of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok — just three months after taking the job.

Mayer, who was also COO of TikTok parent ByteDance, apparently tired of being in the center of an escalating U.S.-China tech war that has also affected CE manufacturer Huawei, WeChat and Zoom.

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“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for,” Mayer said in an letter to staff disclosed to the media. “Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company.”

“We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision,” TikTok said in a statement regarding Mayer’s decision.

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Venessa Pappas, GM of U.S. operations, will head TikTok on an interim basis.

TikTok, which has become a social media phenomenon (100 million monthly users in the U.S.) offering short-form video selfies and related user-generated content, has been under attack by the Trump Administration, including a recent executive seeking to ban the app in the United States unless it is sold. The app this month surpassed 2 billion global downloads.

The federal government contends the app is a security threat because its collects data on users, which “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” according to the executive order.

ByteDance reportedly is looking to move TikTok’s servers out of China in addition to selling the app. Interested parties include Microsoft and Oracle.

Regardless, Mayer wanted no part of pending changes at TikTok.

“The role that I signed up for — including running TikTok globally -— will look very different as a result of the U.S. Administration’s action to push for a sell off of the U.S. business,” Mayer wrote. “I’ve always been globally focused in my work, and leading a global team that includes TikTok U.S. was a big draw for me.”

Report: Video Streaming Leads in Brand Trust; Social Media Less So

During the pandemic, consumers are looking to digital/streaming video platforms for nearly every aspect of their lives. At the same time, trust in digital distribution is declining, according to new data from Intent Lab, a research partnership between Performics and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications.

Intent Lab has been tracking consumers’ satisfaction with their digital experiences since Q2 2016, and trust is at the core. Consumer trust in digital experiences reached its lowest point in October 2018. Since then, trust rose, but has now fallen again over the past six months.

Social media, e-commerce, gaming and video/audio streaming platforms are experiencing a surge in usage, but consumers don’t always trust information from these platforms, according to the report. Consumers rate Amazon as the most trusted platform, with Google and Apple following. Consumers most trust information from video platforms (53%), commerce (45%) and gaming (44%), with social media far behind (25%).

“In crisis, trust can make it or break it for brands,” Esteban Ribero, SVP of planning and insights at Performics, said in a statement. “Over time, the Intent Lab has identified factors that make consumers trust or distrust brands, like protection of personal information, familiarity, adequacy of privacy practices, utility, quality of services or products, honesty, customer service and prevalence of misinformation.”

Control and transparency are key to boosting consumer trust in digital experiences, and respondents want the government to take action. The Intent Lab study found that people want more control over their information online:

  • 80% of consumers say they would like more control over their personal data online. But one in five said they would provide brands with personal information in exchange for a 50%+ discount.
  • 71% would like to see the government reform how companies treat their data. Three in four Gen X and Baby Boomers said they’d like to see the government reform how companies treat consumer data (vs. 64% of millennials).

 

“The pandemic has accelerated consumer adoption and use of digital, whether it’s online commerce, apps, social media or streaming everything from movies to fitness classes. As consumer reliance on these platforms increases, trust is the most critical factor in maintaining and growing this level of adoption,” Ribero said. “Most importantly, our study proves that brands must obtain permission to use consumer data and be transparent in how they use that data.”

Report: Netflix a Global Influencer on Twitter

Move over, President Trump. You’ve got company as a significant influencer on social media platform Twitter. That’s according to new intel from analytics company GlobalData, which found SVOD pioneer Netflix has dominated online chatter during the past 90 days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Twitter-related discussions to Netflix spiked more than 60% from March through May compared with the previous-year period due in large part to people being forced to stay at home due to COVID-19. The subscription streaming video behemoth has more than 8.2 million followers on Twitter.

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In April, Twitter chatter about Netflix skyrocketed when the company announced it had added an eye-popping 15.8 million new subscribers in the first quarter (ended March 31) due to home restrictions, and reported quarterly revenue of $5.77 billion against an estimated $5.76 billion. In fact, unlike many companies, the COVID-19 crisis has had a positive impact on the company’s stock price as it is up by almost 14% since the beginning of the year.

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“Due to COVID-19, people are streaming more content online as they spend more time at home, bringing companies like Netflix to a bright spot in the entertainment sector, with significant growth in new subscribers and higher viewing time,” Prashant Saxena, influencer expert at GlobalData, said in a statement.

In March, there was another spike in chatter when the streamer agreed with the European Union to slow down the speed of its streaming service for 30 days to reduce traffic across Europe by 25% and ensure that broadband networks perform adequately with millions of people confined to their homes.

“As the world starts easing lockdown restrictions and slowly reopening restaurants and other recreational destinations, it is expected that the viewership and membership numbers for Netflix will likely be impacted, including [driving up social media banter], Saxena said.

U.K. Daily Internet Usage Tops 4 Hours

Internet use in the United Kingdom is surging. Adults in the U.K. now spend more than a quarter of their waking day online with myriad services such as TikTok and Zoom, according to new data from Ofcom, the region’s regulator for the communications services.

In April, during the height of the coronavirus lockdown, U.K. adults spent a daily average of four hours and two minutes online. This was up from just under three and a half hours in September 2019. With people looking for new ways to keep connected, informed, entertained and fit during the pandemic, video-sharing and video-calling services surged in popularity.

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TikTok, which allows users to create and share short dance and lip-sync videos, reached 12.9 million U.K. adult visitors in April, up from just 5.4 million in January. Twitch, the live-streaming platform for video gamers, saw an increase from 2.3 million adults to 4.2 million.

The number of people making video calls doubled during lockdown, with more than 70% doing so at least weekly. Houseparty, the app which combines group video-calls with games and quizzes, grew from 175,000 adult visitors in January to 4 million in April. But the biggest growth was seen by Zoom, the virtual meeting platform, which grew from 659,000 users to reach 13 million users over the same period — a rise of almost 2,000%.

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Ofcom found that 90% of adults, and almost all older children aged 8-15, with access to the Internet used at least one of these platforms (YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok) in the past year, with many doing so several times a day. About 32% of online adults now spend more time viewing video-sharing services than broadcast television.

“Lockdown may leave a lasting digital legacy,” Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s director of strategy and research, said in a statement. “The coronavirus has radically changed the way we live, work and communicate online, with millions of people using online video services for the first time.”

The study shows that, before the pandemic, many people were moving away from more established forms of communication — particularly landline calls and SMS text messages — and adopting newer methods.

In the 12 months to February, more people were sending daily text messages using online messaging platforms (52%), such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, than using SMS (41%) or email (26%). Daily use of online voice calls (31%) was only slightly lower than mobile calls (38%).

The pandemic appears to have sped up the adoption of online services to keep in touch. More than 70% people in the U.K. are now making video calls at least weekly, up from 35% pre-lockdown. This trend is particularly noticeable among older Web users; the proportion of online adults aged 65+ who make a least one video-call each week increased from 22% in February to 61% by May.

Reuters: COVID-19 Ups Consumer Consumption, Trust of News Reporting

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has increased consumer confidence in and consumption of news reporting on television and the Internet, including social media platforms, according to new data from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, more than half of survey respondents in six countries (U.K., U.S., Germany, Spain, South Korea, and Argentina) said they were concerned about what was true or false on the Internet when it came to news.

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Domestic politicians were singled out as the single most frequently named source of misinformation, though in some countries — including the U.S. – people who self-identify as right-wing are more likely to blame the media, with Facebook seen as the main channel for spreading “fake news.”

Over the past nine years, Reuters has found online news overtaking television and print as the most frequently used source of news. The virus crisis has significantly changed that picture. Data from surveys conducted in early April found respondents gravitated toward traditional TV for coverage of COVID-19 more so than other topics, including politics and global warming.

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TV news saw an uplift in all six countries polled separately in January and April. Germany saw a 12-point decline in reach for TV news reversed as people turned to the medium for virus-related news, including public service announcements.

“Journalism matters and is in demand again,” Nic Newman senior research associate, wrote in the report.

The use of online and social media for news has significantly increased in most countries, according to Reuters. WhatsApp saw the biggest growth in general with increases of around 10% in some countries, while more than 51% of respondents used some kind of open or closed online group to connect, share information, or take part in a local support network.

Reuters also found that trust in media doubled for social networks, video platforms and messaging services when it came to the virus and economic shutdowns. Across all countries surveyed, 28% turned to a website or app for their news. Respondents 18 to 24 years old preferred accessing social media. Indeed, use of Instagram for news has doubled since 2018 and looks likely to overtake Twitter through 2021, according to the report.

“Facebook [which owns Instagram] and other social media groups are now used on average by 31% of respondents for local news and information,” Newman wrote.

Roku Not Kicking OANN Off Platform Despite Controversy

Roku says it will not remove conservative TV platform One America News Network (OANN) from its platform despite allegations that the San Diego-based pro-Trump network is peddling dangerous unproven conspiratorial allegations.

“We operate a platform with a wide selection of entertainment and content with diverse points of view. While we do not block or censor content based on viewpoint, we reserve the right to remove a channel that has the potential to cause harm to our platform,” Roku said in a media statement. “We are not removing the channel at this time.”

Roku previously removed third-party content (Alex Jones’ InfoWars, among others) from its platform, citing violation of the company’s content standards. The streaming media pioneer has 40 million subscribers on its platform, which includes ad-supported The Roku Channel.

Specifically, criticism revolves around an OANN story Trump cited on Twitter that claimed 75-year-old protester Martin Gugino shown last week on social media being shoved by Buffalo police at a Black Lives Matter rally is an Antifa agitator. Gugino fell backwards, hitting his head and knocked unconscious with blood seeping out of his ear.

The OANN story claims Gugino approached police looking to engage law enforcement for political gain. Trump has declared Antifa — which often engages in militant opposition to political doctrines it disagrees with — a domestic terrorist organization. Gugino, who remains hospitalized, has no known ties to Antifa or any violent group.

Regardless, Trump June 9 on Twitter alleged Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out their equipment.

“@OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?,” Trump tweeted.

The president’s post drew immediate pushback from media observers and politicians across the aisle. “It’s a serious accusation, which should only be made with facts and evidence, and I haven’t seen any yet,” John Thune (R-SD), the second-leading Republican (after Mitch McConnell) in the U.S. Senate, told reporters.

Conviva: Q1 Streaming Video, Social Media Consumption Boom

As expected, streaming video consumption skyrocketed in the first quarter (ended March 31) with global use up 57% compared with the previous-year period, according to new data from Conviva.

The streaming media tracker found that as stay-at-home orders became widespread and live sports were suspended, over-the-top video consumption filled the void. Growth was led by Europe, up 70%, and the Americas, up 57%, while Asia and Africa saw 30% and 25% viewing growth respectively. As viewing habits changed globally, on-demand content increased 79% over the year, representing a 72% share of total viewing time worldwide.

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While the volume of sports-related social content was down in the quarter, sports organizations still managed to drive increases in engagement. Premier League soccer in the United Kingdom scored the greatest increase in engagements per post and engagements per video up 146% and 142% respectively, followed by the NBA with 119% and 126% increases respectively.

Conviva also identified which teams outperformed the field in engagements per social video. For example, unlikely suspects from smaller media markets, including the Milwaukee Bucks, Cincinnati Reds, Winnipeg Jets, and Orlando City Soccer Club, joined ratings juggernaut Dallas Cowboys as league-leaders in engagement on TikTok. In the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers clinched the Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter titles. The Pittsburgh Penguins conquered those same platforms for the NHL. Other leagues saw more disparity across the different platforms, with the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Yankees each earning a top spot on two social networks—a feat the LA Galaxy also netted in MLS.

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Streaming media device pioneer Roku held a 44% share of global connected TV viewing time, and was the only device to net quality improvements, including 49% decline in video start failures; 37% higher picture quality, 33% less buffering, and 15% faster video start times. As a result, Roku boosted viewing hours by 55% year over year.

Across all devices, global streaming quality continued to improve with buffering down 27%, picture quality up 25%, and 14% fewer video start failures year over year, according to Conviva. Mobile reported the most progress with 38% less buffering, 27% higher picture quality and 13% fewer start failures. Mobile also netted the largest viewing growth year over year in Q1, up 60%, compared to 51% growth for connected TV and just 22% growth for PCs.

Data for the report was primarily collected from Conviva’s proprietary sensor technology currently embedded in three billion streaming video applications, measuring in excess of 500 million unique viewers watching 150 billion streams per year with 1.5 trillion real-time transactions per day across more than 180 countries.

Year-over-year comparisons were normalized at the customer level for accurate representations of industry growth. The social media data included in this report is based on an analysis of over 15 million posts, 1.7 million videos, and over 2.9 billion engagements across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Analyst: TikTok to Surpass 50 Million Users in U.S. by 2021

After nearly doubling its U.S. user base last year, growth for TikTok, a Chinese video-sharing social networking service, will slow in the coming years as competition heats up and concerns grow among marketers, according to new data from eMarketer.

TikTok’s domestic U.S. user base will grow 21.9% in 2020 to 45.4 million people. By 2021, it will surpass 50 million (52.2 million). This follows 97.5% growth in 2019, as the short-form video platform drew in a huge number of users, especially children and teens. Growth will slow to single digits in 2022 as the app becomes heavily saturated among core younger users.

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“TikTok had a breakout year in 2019, and it is incredibly popular among teens at this point,” analyst Debra Aho Williamson said in a statement. “Some are spending multiple hours per day on the app, which is a testament to the incredible stickiness of its scrolling video format. But it has yet to develop a strong following among older generations.”

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This year, 21.6% of U.S. social network users, or more than one in five, will use TikTok at least once a month. Despite having lower penetration than more established competitors, it’s one of the few social apps whose penetration is growing.