How do ads work?

Do you ever stop and look at the adverts you’re seeing on the banners of websites, on your Facebook and Instagram news feed?

Well, recently, I’ve been very confused, a lot of the adverts that appear on my pages include things that I have not and probably will never search for, such as:

  • Am I ready for a role where I can develop the next generation of Veterinary Surgeons? No, I’m not a vet, nor do I like animals
  • Book a Renault test drive today. No thanks, I already have a car 
  • Save the Date – Wedding Fayre Nope, not even close to getting married
  • Choose and online therapist now Could be useful, but I don’t need a therapist
  • Medicine elective abroad Am not a medicine student, so nope
  • UK Coffee Shop Owners, want to improve profits? I’m not a coffee shop owner
  • Sponsor me ‘Mr Darcy’ at Dogs Trust Not a priority of mine sorrys
  • Special offer on a cruise I don’t even like boats, nope!

Then don’t get me started on Instagram, where every advert is an _cl account, from Chile. I mean, yes I spent a year there, but I’m not there anymore, and I’ve never uploaded any photos from my time in Chile to Instagram. Why Instagram is showing me all these Chilean brands is really confusing.

So how do the ads work? Does it depend on your cookies, what you google, the links you click on, the photos you like, the pages you interact with, your friends list, your location, what’s on your Amazon wishlist, or a whole algorithm based on all these factors? Sometimes the ads come true, I searched for accommodation in Glasgow, then for the next couple of days, I saw adverts for hotels in Glasgow. But some of them are downright random.

What’s the strangest ad you’ve seen today?

Guys on Facebook

Something strange is going on and I’m not the only one to wonder about this. The question is, what is it with guys on Facebook?

Facebook is a strange place, and people use it differently, I get that. There are people who share all their personal photos, emotions, dreams etc on their profile, so wish to keep their friends list restricted to below 100. There are people who use it as a networking tool and add everyone they come in to contact with and end up with a friends list of over 1500 ‘friends’, even though some of these were people they met once and will never see again. Then there are the people in between, who share some aspects of their life but not all. There are Facebook lurkers who see everything, but never admit they’re watching you by ‘liking’ your photos and updates. There are enthusiastic people who go through your whole album and like every single photo, then send friend requests to the friends tagged in your photos. You get my point, people use Facebook very differently.

I have a very private Facebook profile, so people who aren’t my friends can’t see much at all, but once we’re friends, you’ll be able to see my photos, links to my blog and the articles I share. 659 friends I think is a decent amount, but I no longer rush to add people as Facebook friends.

Back to the question… what is it with guys and Facebook?

Let me just list some case studies that cause me and my girl friends to send long voice notes back and forth to each other. In all these cases, we’ve met the guys in a club, out and about, or through some other method, meaning we wouldn’t have each other on Facebook already

  • Guy tells the girl he’s dating if she added him on Facebook, he would leave her in the buffer zone (neither accepting nor rejecting the friend request) for at least two weeks. She sends him a friend request and three weeks later he accepts, even though within those three weeks the two have met up in person
  • Guy tells girl he’s really hard to find on Facebook, so there’s no point trying to find him ~ Challenge accepted, girl and her friends launch an investigation and find his profile and links to his twitter and insta
  • Guy tells girl he doesn’t use Facebook, so there’s no point adding him ~ girl and her friends find him on Facebook, he’s recently updated his profile picture and has added three new friends in the past week
  • Guy sends girl friend request after they met each other for the first time (she didn’t tell him her last name but he found her) ~ she accepts after a few days in the buffer zone and his profile is empty (I thought social media was meant to be that – social, when there’s nothing to see, alarm bells start ringing)
  • Guy goes back to old photos/status updates of the girls and unlikes them to prove some kind of point

I think these guys are all hiding something*, whether it’s another relationship, friends, political views, a child, embarrassing photos from year 9, who knows? But what other reason is there for you to not accept our friend requests, or pretend that you don’t use Facebook, when you clearly do, and have over 1000 friends. Are we not one of the select few to be blessed with access to your profile. 

Besides easy communication through Messenger, one of the reasons to add someone on Facebook is to get to know them a bit better, right? To see their photos, their updates, the articles they share, the sports teams they like etc. Not all of this information is obtained from stalking their profile. When you’re browsing your news feed, photos come up X likes this… X checked in to Y and is feeling happy. Guys, by adding girls on Facebook, she’s not going to necessarily start downloading your photos and making them into a collage, if that’s what you’re afraid of. She can’t use Facebook to access your internet history, so please, what is the deal with guys on Facebook? What are you hiding from us? What game are you playing? 

*ps, if you are hiding something, we will find out about it eventually

Online Harassment

In my current job, I have a big online presence, Facebook is where almost all of our sales are generated as we connect with the international students and create events for them. As I’m the admin of the groups and always posting about the events, the spotlight is on me and I get 100s of messages a day. Mostly they are from people asking about events, wanting more tickets, or asking for advice about the city they’re studying in.

But I have had several messages from men which have asked me for other things. Some have asked me to send them photos (not the type you’d find on a postcard) and others have been even more direct and asked me if I am working for the local escort service (which unfortunately has a similar name to our company’s) and continue to ask me about such services, even when I tell them that is not what I do.

Sometimes it’s funny, seeing these guys message ‘me’ (for work purposes I have separate facebook accounts) asking such ridiculous requests, but it’s actually not funny that I and other women are subject to messages like this… I don’t even know these guys, I’ve never met them before. Last night when I received another such message, I felt quite intimidated as he told me to ‘never play games with [him]’.

Before I have just blocked messages from these men (yes it’s always men), but from now on I will not accept this online behaviour, because it IS harassment and I feel that if they are messaging me, they are probably messaging other women too. As I work with international students, I fear some of them are far away from home, out of their comfort zone and therefore vulnerable. I feel it’s my responsibility to report these messages to both Facebook and the police so that it’s on record should anything else happen. It needs to be dealt with immediately so it does not escalate.

It starts with a few messages, but who knows what they are capable of and what they will do? Some of these male students come from cultures where they can’t freely talk to women they meet, so when they come to the UK and are out of that cultural environment and away from the watchful eyes of their peers and families, they are unleashed. Suddenly women are walking around in short skirts and crop tops, they’re friendly and talkative, there are dating apps where men can connect with these women and ask them questions like they have been asking me.

Some women just accept the threatening, intimidating and offensive messages as something that happens, it’s just part of being a woman, we have to put up with stuff like this. We just block them and try to forget the things they’ve said to us, but I urge you reading this… if you’re a woman, report these incidents to the police, report their online messages and tell your friends and classmates who these people are..believe it or not, not all men are pigs and some are truly disgusted when you tell them what other men have messaged you asking such things.

And if you’re a man, set a good example, don’t dismiss it as ‘banter’ when you hear about guys sending these messages to women and girls. It is happening every day and it needs to change.

Adding Your Boss on Facebook

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had several part time jobs at university, selling tickets, bar work, conducting interviews etc. I’ve found some of these jobs through Unitemps and some through Facebook itself. With casual jobs, usually the meetings, rotas and other important information is shared on a secret Facebook group. I like being in a work Facebook group as that way I can see who else is working on the same shift as me, other people ask questions so I don’t have to and sometimes there is group banter between co-workers.

They be adding you like a boss

The only thing is, to be part of one of these secret Facebook groups, you have to be added to it by the group administrator, which is always your boss. Your boss can’t add you to this group until you two are Facebook ‘friends’. It puts you in an awkward position as to be part of the group and know what’s happening, you have to accept your manager’s friend request, giving them the opportunity to look at your friends, photos, status updates, events you’re attending etc.

When you accept their request (which you ultimately have to), you’re then given that same access to give your new manager a Facebook stalk. The temptation is too much and within a week or so, you find yourself watching their ice bucket challenge, seeing the selfies of their dog and you know which restaurant they took their partner to for their anniversary. It’s too much information and potentially awkward…but you can’t decline their request, nor can you leave them in the Facebook friends buffer zone.

So what can you do?

In these situations, I’ve accepted my new manager and instantly added them to ‘Acquaintances’; this Facebook list means that you’re still friends with this person, but what they see of your profile is limited. You can change your photos, status etc privacy setting to ‘friends except acquaintances’ meaning that anyone in your acquaintances list won’t see these things. Then, I’ll unfollow them, so that their cat photos won’t appear on my news feed. Out of sight, out of mind.

It’s probably something I shouldn’t worry about as I never post anything ridiculous on Facebook. But I do have some photos on there that I only want actual friends to see. So when I finish these casual jobs, I always delete the boss as if I need to contact them for anything, I think it’s better to do it by phone or email, not over Facebook.

********

Afterthought: On the other hand, I have a part time job as a Team Leader and I had to add the new team members as Facebook friends to add them to the secret group for our work. I’m not sure how they felt about it, but as I’m a student I think I’m less intimidating than having a more senior ‘boss’ figure adding them. I’ve never pried into any of their profiles or stalked them because I don’t have the time and as we organise parties, I’m not going to fire them if I see a picture of them drunk.

Facebook Unfriending

As I am about to set off on a six month trip to Spain, I am soon going to take time to go through my Facebook friend list and decide who I want to share my posts with and who I want to unfriend. This is not the first time I have done this, I might add. I am quite personal and protective over my photos; I don’t like to publish too many on Facebook as I feel they are my personal memories. I question whether the girl from my Spanish GCSE class should be ‘allowed’ to see and download these photos of mine.

At high school and university, it is very easy to fall into the social media trap of meeting somebody once and immediately adding them on Facebook. You find them easily through your five mutual friends and when the request is accepted, you have a cheeky stalk of their profile, as you have full access to their photos, status updates, relationship status, a map of where they have been and even their high score on Candy Crush. Don’t deny it, all students have done this stalking at one point or another. This form of online networking and adding people to your friends list helps to gain social acceptance in a group of friends, where often subjects of conversation in ‘real life’ involve “Did you see the video that Tom posted last night?”. Creating a large online network of friends is also essential as a student so that you can see and are invited to events. Online promotion using Facebook is now huge and with Facebook’s ‘invite only’ privacy setting for events, if you are not invited by a friend you are not and cannot be on the guestlist.

Whilst I am abroad, I plan to use Facebook to show my photos to others and also as a back up for them. I know that the chances of my camera getting stolen AND my laptop breaking are very unlikely, but there is some comfort in knowing that my pictures are all uploaded somewhere safer than a memory stick – especially given my history with memory sticks. See my previous post here http://wp.me/p3sHrJ-y .

In an ideal world, I would only have my family, close friends and coursemates as my Facebook friends so that only they could see my uploads and updates. But this is not an ideal world. Filtering through my friends list, I see countless names and faces of ‘friends’, yet I struggle to remember when the last time I saw them in person was. I think it is suitable to call this large group of people ‘acquaintances’. If I were to see them in the street I would say hello, if they were raising money for charity I would probably spare £5. However if I was in trouble, I wouldn’t call them for help. Neither would I invite them to a farewell party. Is it right to unfriend these acquaintances? If so, when is the right time to unfriend them and remove them from my social circle? I know that they haven’t progressed to the friend level and that they probably won’t any time soon – unless they are also going to the same places in Spain that I am. I know that I don’t want to share my photos and personal experiences with them whilst I’m away. So what is holding me back?

Well now, nothing is.

Now that I am not promoting via Facebook for my job, I am ready to declutter my friends list. I no longer need to spam their news feed to get ticket sales and to raise awareness of the company I work for.

The general questions I will ask myself of the friends in my list will be:

  • Do you actually like this person?
  • Have you spoken to this person face to face within the last year?
  • Do you remember having any particular good memories with this person?
  • Do you have them as a contact in your mobile?
  • If they were to upload baby/ marriage/ graduation etc pictures, would you care?
  • Will you see and talk to them in the near future?

If the answer is no to at least three of the above questions, I will most likely delete them as a friend on Facebook. That is not to say that in some years to come we can’t change our friendship status back to ‘friends’.

Why be so over dramatic? It’s only Facebook you might say. Well, I feel that already as an active internet user I don’t have as much privacy as I would like over content related to myself. A simple Google search of my name brings up links to my online accounts and posts. Another click on the images part of Google also shows pictures of myself. These are public for the whole world to see – friends, acquaintances, strangers, employers – and there is not a lot I can do to change this. Yet I do have control over my Facebook profile and I think it is essential to restrict my photos, updates, events and my personalised map to just my real friends.

Reflection on the latest Facebook pages

Firstly, I don’t like to use obscene language, so during this post I will censor what I deem to be “bad words”, instead I will give a dictionary definition of the word in italics, as some words I refuse to repeat. 

It is exam season at my university (and many others in the UK) and it seems that due to procrastination from revision and/or boredom, a number of pages have been created on Facebook, including:

> Tell Him/Her
> His/Her
> Confessions
> Rate your act of having sex; sexual partner
Spotted promiscuous women of ___

These pages or Facebook communities are ‘affiliated’ (unofficially) with specific universities and often the university logo is the picture that is uploaded with the page – despite the fact that the university has not created the page. These pages allow users to anonymously submit comments and pictures about fellow students, the person who submits a comment to the administrator remains a mystery, but whoever s/he decides to name and shame is not anonymous.

These pages have appeared on my timeline due to a number of my friends ‘liking’ them (as far as Facebook’s logic is concerned, if two or more of my friends like something, then I am surely to like it too). Regarding the first two types of pages in the list, I ‘liked’ them myself in the beginning, and although they had full names in the posts, reading things such as

Patricia Cameron* I love you but you have to stop singing Sweet Home Alabama in the shower.

was enjoyable, a bit of a laugh and seemed to be a continuation of the British sense of humour, where we are able to laugh at ourselves.

However, these pages (Tell Him/Her and His/Her) soon turned into a cyber bullying playground, with users posting things such as

Michael Washington* I have chlamydia, best get yourself tested.

I immediately ‘disliked’ both of these pages as I did not want to be associated as a person who ‘likes’ this type of behaviour on a social media platform. I am actually disgusted at the types of comments that users have submitted about specific people at my university. Although I understand that there is a ‘banterous’ side of the pages and that some people find this type of naming and shaming funny, I believe that this type of public humiliation is an awful thing. With the amount of users that ‘like’ these pages, sooner or later a friend of the person who has been named and shamed has tagged them in the post, giving all users on Facebook a direct link to see what this person looks like and possibly ridicule them, make a judgement or send them more abuse.

The Confessions page encourages users to submit stories which will be published anonymously; I expected the confessions on this page to be things along the line of “Sorry Lisa, I ran out of bread so took two slices of yours and didn’t tell you.” but instead I found myself reading people’s strange (exaggerated) stories purely concerning sexual encounters and drug taking. The extravagance of these stories often makes me believe that they may be made up, but even so, this is not the kind of thing that I come on Facebook to read.

To conclude, I will talk about what I deem to be the most outrageous types of pages that I have seen this week – Rate your act of having sex; sexual partner and Spotted promiscuous women of Hampshire*. These pages actively encourage what I deem to be lad culture, rating people’s sexual performances and posting full names and pictures of people (purely women) who are deemed to be promiscuous. I have never liked any of these pages, but was shocked to see them appear on my news feed as being popular amongst my friends. 

I am a curious person, so have looked briefly at each of these pages to see what all the fuss is about. What some people may class as ‘harmless banter’ I class as offensive and laddish (this term I am using to describe the laddish behaviour of both men and women as there are posts naming both men and women on the page). As with the other pages, the person who submits the rating is kept anonymous, but the person who’s reputation is being ridiculed on the page is identified with their full name, with no attempt to conceal their privacy. Despite the admin of this page saying that Facebook users can hide the page from their news feed (as reported by URN on this link http://urn1350.net/blog/pulse/2013/05/rate-your-shag-do-you-rate-it-or-slate-it ) if you hide the page from your news feed, there is no way for you to know if you have been rated on this page, or classed as a promiscuous woman. If the thought of somebody rating your sexual performance behind your back to their friends makes you shudder, imagine having strangers and a minority of students at your university do it publicly on a social media platform.

Facebook allows users to control their accounts with a number of privacy settings but these settings only go so far, and if your name does appear on one of these pages, apart from talking to the admins and asking for it to be removed, there is nothing that can prevent people seeing that post until it is removed (reporting a post as spam doesn’t remove it immediately). I believe pages like this that openly name and shame people are encouraging cyber bullying. As users are able to like, comment on and share the posts and stories that appear on these pages, there is the potential for somebody to gain a bad reputation really quickly. 

This form of bullying is unacceptable and actions must be taken by somebody. The problem is, who is responsible for taking action?

1. Individual universities? – Universities are now fully aware of online social media and they should regularly oversee that the students are not shaming the name of their institution. Even if it is not the most prestigious uni in the country, it surely must want to portray a positive image to alumni – past, present and future. They should prohibit the use of official university logos for such pages mentioned above, as they do not promote the ethos of university life that should be promoted.

2. NUS? – The NUS are constantly working to improve life and welfare for students in the UK. I read a very interesting research paper, called “That’s what she said” (link for the full paper and summary here http://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-calls-for-summit-on-lad-culture/) which the NUS created, it summarises the findings of lad culture in higher education, but more work needs to be done and solutions still need to be found for the rise of lad culture in the UK. Now the research has been completed, further steps need to be put into place to tackle the social issues affecting students.

3. Facebook? – I don’t think that Mark Zuckerberg ever imagined that his social media website would turn into a place where unmoderated pages promote and encourage this type of behaviour. Although these pages may be a minority compared to the thousands of other pages they still affect and upset people, causing controversy.

4. Individuals? – As individuals we are all responsible for what we say, how we act and what we do (on and offline). You can choose to take a stand against pages like this by not submitting stories to the admins, also to prevent the pages going viral, ‘unlike’ them. This will stop your friends seeing it when they log on. We all have experienced how Facebook’s automated system recommends we like things that we do not like (I do not like Kesha or iCarly), and recommends that we become friends with James Kilpatrick* (despite only having one mutual friend). Imagine if your Mum, Dad, little brother, sister, cousin etc was recommended to rate their sexual partner, because you had rated yours…how would you feel then?

Ultimately, it looks like these pages will stay around as long as people keep liking them and submitting stories, ratings, pictures and comments. If you think that it is funny, that is fine, but yes I do judge your sense of humour. 

* Names of people and places have been changed.

Beating Your Candy Crush Addiction

If like me, you have fallen into the trap of Candy Crush Saga and need one simple tip on how to overcome your addiction, this post might help you. I will be referring to the online Facebook game which you play with friends, therefore if you have downloaded the app to a smartphone or a tablet, this might not apply to you. (Sorry!)

If you don’t know what Candy Crush Saga (hencheforth CC) is, it is a variation on the classic Bejewelled game, where matching 3 identical jewels (or in the case of CC sweets) removes them from the game board and wins you points. Matching 4 or 5 sweets in a row will earn you with special candies that have special powers to win you more points. If you haven’t played yet, then I must warn you now that the game really is a saga with over 350 levels at present. Honestly speaking, once you start playing it is hard to stop, unlike Bejewelled where the game play is the same each time, each of CC’s levels are different. The layout of the board changes, there are several types of challenges and obstacles (such as chocolate) which get in the way, making each level fun and exciting.

Candy crush!

CC has in the last few months blown through the roof and is popular around the globe. Made by London based King games it has 66 million players. Despite the childlike animations of the game and having to go through levels such as the Minty Meadow and pass over the Bubblegum Bridge it is popular with adults too, and has recently taken over Angry Birds to become the world’s most popular online game.

If you, like me are addicted to Candy Crush then this is how I have managed to stay away from the jellies for the past three days; It is a simple concept in essence. First you need to reach the end of an episode. When you get to the end of the episode, you need three friends to send you a virtual ticket, to board the next episode of the saga, right? So, if you simply don’t ask your friends for a ticket, they cannot give you one and you cannot pass to the next level.

Don't ask your friends

I tried this for one day and felt a sense of achievement, having previously played CC everyday for the past month or so. However, I must admit that by the end of the second day I was frustrated, wanting nothing more than to see a Sugar Crush after completing a level. Determined not to ask my friends for tickets, I actually went back to a previous level I had completed to get my candy fix. But actually, there was no fun in it at all, as there was nothing to aim for, having already completed the level.

This method probably best works for people who have strong will power, it requires you to be focused, determined not to fail as well as ignoring requests from your friends when they ask you for extra lives and tickets of their own.

During exam season I pledge not to play Candy Crush everyday, as it takes up time and even though it is a fun revision break, having to log on to Facebook to play it also leads to temptation to read messages from my friends and browse posts in groups I belong to. As an alternative to Candy Crush in your revision break, I recommend Sporcle instead – http://www.sporcle.com/ . It has user submitted quizzes on many topics, including geography, history, TV and science. I personally like the geography ones, such as naming all the European countries. If naming countries isn’t your thing, there are also more fun quizzes, such as naming every word in a Disney song, all the characters in Harry Potter or even guessing the highest grossing movies of 2002. What’s even better about Sporcle, is that at the end of (most of) the quizzes, the website will reveal the answers, meaning you learn a little and remember that yes, Vatican does count as a country.