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From the editor: Devil in the details


Here’s the thing about social media. You can say anything you like.

That can be fantastic when you want to vent, or blast off at something in the news that really bothers you. I do it myself, although I tend to be a little more reserved now that I am a bit more in the public eye. You can be silly, poignant or simply have the right gimmick.

Having the chance to criticize a political policy or a bad burger from a fast food joint has never really been easier. All you have to do is log onto Facebook or Twitter.

But social media, even a platform such as YouTube, can be rife with misinformation, skewed viewpoints, or just plain old lies designed to lure you into clicking on the page. Views equal revenues.

I recently was scrolling through Facebook, and a video came up showing me how one particular vlogger was a “crab-eating vlogger” who makes about 1.3 million a year through sponsorship deals. She cooks enormous crab meals – think 10 pounders – and eats them on screen. Thats it. Thats all she does.

I think I’m in the wrong line of work.

Anyway, she goes on to explain her process for luring people onto her page, which is the thumbnail. She places the cooked crab close to the camera, up chest high, to make it look like she has caught and cooked something from a King Kong movie.

Then she says, she never eats the whole thing – usually just a pound or so. If I’m bothering to click on a video to watch someone eat, then eat. Don’t cook a huge meal and then just choke down a claw or two. But this is a perfect example of the power of social media. A little picture can make you a million dollars a year.

Insanity.

Facebook isn’t exactly exempt from the sensationalism of “but wait theres more” gimmicks either. The giant social media platform can track what you shop for from your laptop or phone thanks to a little hidden disclosure in the terms and conditions you electronically sign when you create your account.

I went shopping for a laser printer last month and apparently Facebook thinks I am planning to corner the market on printers now since all of the ads I see are for printers. (Pro tip: you can disable Facebook page tracking in your settings.) It’s also not just videos and advertising that can be click baited into your face – it’s your own personal property.

In that same Facebook terms and conditions page that we all clicked on without reading (don’t pretend you did), there is one in particular that is simply incredible. It states that “Facebook receives a non-exclusive transferable sub-licensable royalty-free worldwide license to use any photo on your account.” So while they don’t get to own your photos, they can do pretty much whatever they want with them. And you never get a dime.

I do recall a woman in the U.S.A. a few years back who was shocked to see a photo of herself and her infant son on a billboard. Upon investigation, she learned of that royalty-free worldwide photo policy and was told there was nothing to be done.

I’m not trying to give you all of this information to scare you off of the internet. That would be terrible, as it can be a wonderful resource.

When I am watching a movie or reading something with my son and he asks me a question I don’t know the answer to, my immediate response is “Lets find out.” I consider the internet an incredible tool for learning. But it needs to be tempered with discretion when it comes to believing what you see.

I suspect that a lot of us get taken in by the little chain letters that go around social media a lot. “I bought too many cars, so I’ll give one away to the one who reposts first” is one such example. If you know the small retailer and it’s legit, then go for it. Otherwise it’s best to remain cautious.

A little attention to the finer details can be applied to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in the same way we identify a spam email. If the spelling looks wrong, we know not to click on it, download or open any attachments.

But if it’s on a popular platform we seem to forget to use our caution and logic.

If social media wants to gain a reputation as a reliable source of information then it ceases to be a social media platform and becomes a defacto news site. That would subject it to checks, balances and the usual journalistic standards, which is not what the platform is designed for.

Social media is designed to allow us to be social from the comfort of our homes, or to have fun. But it’s on us to know exactly what it is we are signing up for.

In the future, you just might want to read the fine print after all.

René Roy is seasoned book editor, trained portrait photographer, volunteer firefighter and diehard Montreal Canadiens fan. You can e-mail him at rjroy@wreckhousepress.com or follow him on twitter where he posts terrible Dad jokes as @hfxhabby.

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