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Facebook Avatars. Please, 2020–let’s not make this a thing

Facebook avatar is the newest, oldest thing for users looking to spice up their profiles, and we’re not happy about it. We already have Bitmoji.

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Facebook Avatar

If you’re a habitual Facebook user, you’ve probably uploaded a photo or 1200. In all likelihood, you have a picture of yourself–or your dog, or your kid, or your tractor–set for your profile so randos who seek you out know they’ve found the correct John Smith.

Now, however, Facebook has introduced a feature allowing you to create what MakeUseOf refers to as “the new Bitmoji” as a substitute for your profile picture. The avatar can even be used to add reactions to conversations under posts and in Messenger–a revolutionary addition, to be sure.

Excusing for a moment that the Facebook avatar is criminally redundant–Bitmoji was already available as a reaction option in Facebook Messenger, and it’s not exactly difficult to screenshot and share a picture of your Bitmoji handing out hot dogs (or whatever) and set it as a profile picture–it’s hard to see who the target market for this feature is.

I have a tough time seeing it as anything other than patently stupid, and that’s from someone who typically doesn’t care about other people’s representations of themselves online. Go figure.

From a more serious (and unbiased) standpoint, using an avatar rather than something akin to an actual photo will absolutely be seen by some as unprofessional, and even though Facebook isn’t exactly the poster child for professionalism, enough employers have admitted to using Facebook searches to inform job candidate selections that it’s probably safer to err on the side of appearing…y’know…human.

Furthermore, the use of an avatar instead of a traditional headshot (or camera roll selfie–take your pick) is sure to date you, and not in a “fun parent” kind of way. Avoiding this kind of social media trend should be at the top of your online presence to-do list, if for no other reason than you get to maintain some form of moral high ground when this invariably blows up in your friends’ faces.

While comparing this fad to the Bitmoji pandemic of the last few years is too easy to resist, avatars aren’t new tech; anyone who uses Snapchat at all is aware of their widespread–and patently annoying–use. In fact, MakeUseOf posits that the avatar craze far predates Snapchat’s Bitmoji use: Yahoo avatars, for those of you who remember Yahoo, were popular many years before Snapchat took over college campuses and daycares alike.

The practice of making a life-adjacent avatar may not be new, but it’s still novel–at least to the Facebook crowd, for now.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Social Media

Zillow launches real estate brokerage after eons of swearing they wouldn’t

(MEDIA) We’ve warned of this for years, the industry funded it, and Zillow Homes brokerage has launched, and there are serious questions at hand.

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zillow group

Zillow Homes was announced today, a Zillow licensed brokerage that will be fully operational in 2021 in Phoenix, Tucson, and Atlanta.

Whoa, big huge yawn-inducing shocker, y’all.

We’ve been warning for more than a decade that this was the end game, and the company blackballed us for our screams (and other criticisms, despite praise when merited here and there).

Blog posts were penned in fiery effigy calling naysayers like us stupid and paranoid.

Well color me unsurprised that the clarity of the gameplan was clear as day all along over here, and the paid talking heads sent out to astroturf, gaslight, and threaten us are now all quiet.

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Social Media

We watched The Social Dilemma – here are some social media tips that stuck with us

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Here are some takeaways from watching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma that helped me to eliminate some social media burnout.

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Neon social media like heart with a 0

Last weekend, I made the risky decision to watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix. I knew it was an important thing to watch, but the risk was that I also knew it would wig me out a bit. As much as I’m someone who is active “online,” the concept of social media overwhelms me almost more than it entertains (or enlightens) me.

The constant sharing of information, the accessibility to information, and the endless barrage of notifications are just a few of the ways social media can cause overwhelm. The documentary went in deeper than this surface-level content and got into the nitty gritty of how people behind the scenes use your data and track your usage.

Former employees of high-profile platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and Pinterest gave their two cents on the dangers of social media from a technological standpoint. Basically, our data isn’t just being tracked to be passed along for newsletters and the like. But rather, humans are seen as products that are manipulated to buy and click all day every day in order to make others money and perpetuate information that has astronomical effects. (I’m not nearly as intelligent as these people, so watch the documentary to get the in-depth look at how all of this operates.)

One of the major elements that stuck with me was the end credits of The Social Dilemma where they asked interviewees about the ways they are working to eliminate social media overwhelm in their own lives. Some of these I’ve implemented myself and can attest to. Here’s a short list of things you can do to keep from burning out online.

  1. Turn off notifications – unless there are things you need to know about immediately (texts, emails, etc.) turn it off. Getting 100 individual notifications within an hour from those who liked your Instagram post will do nothing but burn you (and your battery) out.
  2. Know how to use these technologies to change the conversation and not perpetuate things like “fake news” and clickbait.
  3. Uninstall apps that are wasting your time. If you feel yourself wasting hours per week mindlessly scrolling through Facebook but not actually using it, consider deleting the app and only checking the site from a desktop or Internet browser.
  4. Research and consider using other search tools instead of Google (one interviewee mentioned that Qwant specifically does not collect/store your information the way Google does).
  5. Don’t perpetuate by watching recommended videos on YouTube, those are tailored to try and sway or sell you things. Pick your own content.
  6. Research the many extensions that remove these recommendations and help stop the collection of your data.

At the end of the day, just be mindful of how you’re using social media and what you’re sharing – not just about yourself, but the information you’re passing along from and to others. Do your part to make sure what you are sharing is accurate and useful in this conversation.

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Social Media

WeChat ban blocked by California judge, but for how long?

(SOCIAL MEDIA) WeChat is protected by First Amendment concerns for now, but it’s unclear how long the app will remain as pressure mounts.

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WeChat app icon on an iPhone screen

WeChat barely avoided a US ban after a Californian judge stepped in to temporarily block President Trump’s executive order. Judge Laurel Beeler cited the effects of the ban on US-based WeChat users and how it threatened the First Amendment rights of those users.

“The plaintiffs’ evidence reflects that WeChat is effectively the only means of communication for many in the community, not only because China bans other apps, but also because Chinese speakers with limited English proficiency have no options other than WeChat,” Beeler wrote.

WeChat is a Chinese instant messaging and social media/mobile transaction app with over 1 billion active monthly users. The WeChat Alliance, a group of users who filed the lawsuit in August, pointed out that the ban unfairly targets Chinese-Americans as it’s the primary app used by the demographic to communicate with loved ones, engage in political discussions, and receive news.

The app, along with TikTok, has come under fire as a means for China to collect data on its users. U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has stated, “At the President’s direction, we have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.”

This example is yet another symptom of our ever-globalizing society where we are learning to navigate between connectivity and privacy. The plaintiffs also pointed out alternatives to an outright ban. One example cited was in Australia, where WeChat is now banned from government officials’ phones but not others.

Beeler has said that the range in alternatives to preserving national security affected her decision to strike down the ban. She also explained that in regards to dealing with national security, there is “scant little evidence that (the Commerce Department’s) effective ban of WeChat for all US users addresses those concerns.”

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