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March Issue

Vol 27|No 4|March 2017

Who is a friend?
A follower?

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

Some people have thousands of friends and thousands of followers. But what does this mean, really?

Are these friends who will support them through hard times and remain loyal?

Are these followers who look at Instagram images and make significant comments? Or are these mere acquaintances?

Instagram and Facebook have diluted what it means to be a follower and a friend.

There are some who measure their well-being by how many friends and followers they have attracted, but for the most part this is a superficial collection of acquaintances who prefer emoticons to words and words to phrases.

It is worth thinking about. When the Internet first arrived in schools, some of us predicted that access to rich information sources might lead to some wonderful improvements in the learning and thinking of students as long as teachers approached the new sources strategically.

Back in 1995 I wrote the following for the May/June issue of Multimedia Schools stressing the importance of equipping students with information skills.

What happens BEFORENET and AFTERNET? With millions of new users jumping into Cyberspace and thousands of schools hopping on this latest educational bandwagon, the question is whether on not all the sound and fury signifies meaning.
Does "surfing" the Net lead to insight, truth and value, or is the Internet experience more akin to "Trivial Pursuit?" Does the typical user skim along the surface collecting trinkets and entertaining pictures, or does the Internet serve a deeper and more valuable purpose?
Driving onto the electronic highway is the easy part. Collecting hundreds of pages of information is also easy. The important — and often ignored — issue facing school leaders, teachers and library media specialists is the necessity of students possessing information problem-solving Skills. Effective use of the Internet depends upon the possession of strategic questioning, planning, searching and information-compacting skills.

From the very beginning, the Internet has posed threats as well as opportunities. New technologies, I warned in 1998, might bring about "An Age of Glib" with the superficial winning out over depth and understanding.

Does this Mind Candy Kafe presage the arrival of an Age of Glib? Are we entering a phase during which we will confuse the accumulation of massive piles of information with the attainment of Truth?

Just what do we mean by "glib?"

The American Heritage Dictionary defines glib as follows . . .

(glîb) adjective

1. a. Performed with a natural, offhand ease: glib conversation. b. Showing little thought, preparation, or concern: a glib response to a complex question.
2. Marked by ease and fluency of speech or writing that often suggests or stems from insincerity, superficiality, or deceitfulness.

Synonyms: glib, slick, smooth-tongued. The central meaning shared by these adjectives is "being, marked by, or engaging in ready but often insincere or superficial discourse": a glib denial; a slick commercial; a smooth-tongued hypocrite.

Relationships that are superficial, fleeting and unreliable?

It is clearly possible to have serious, meaningful friendships on Facebook and Instagram. In fact, for some people, social media have restored friendships that have lapsed and led to the growth of intimacy and understanding.

For that matter, there is nothing wrong with having lots of acquaintances, as long as one is clear about the differences between true friends and mere acquaintances.

What are the traits of a true friend?

What are the traits of a true follower?

These are questions that students can address thoughtfully in class, creating their own lists and definitions. Having thought about them, they will be mindful about their social media choices and actions.

Instagram is a good place to start, as anyone with an Instagram stream will be bombarded with likes and followers that are often generated by computer programs rather than humans.

Looking for Spambots

Students should research the term "Spambot" so they can see that many of their likes and followers come from automated programs, often tied to hashtags. This article - "Uncovering the Dirty World of Instagram Spam Bots, How They Work" - does a good job of listing the companies that will perform this service for businesses, celebrities and eager teenagers with extra cash.

One sign of an incoming Spambot is the speed with which they will like or follow a post. Few humans are likely to like a photo within 5 seconds of its posting. And why would someone follow someone else without looking at or liking any of their photos?

If a student or an adult is suddenly followed by a glamorous model with 60k followers, and that model does not stop to like any photos or comment on any photos, it is probably a spambot or a social media assistant who visits thousands of sites daily hoping to increase the celebrity's number of followers - a number that may eventually lead to added income if the model endorses products during daily postings.

Some people do not care if their followers are real or fake so long as the number gets bigger and bigger. And some people follow back without thinking about it, which is what the spammer is hoping will happen.

Some of these spam sites will automatically delete any likes if you block them. It takes 2 seconds after blocking them for them to delete 4 likes.

Looking for authentic followers

An authentic follower will return many times to like photos and comment on photos. They will establish a relationship and take the time to communicate, sometimes using words instead of emoticons. Some may even want to chat with Direct Messages.

As with all authentic human relationships, intimacy requires an investment of time and energy. While quick applause and crowds of followers may be enjoyable and pleasing to some extent, we would hope that our students will come to distinguish between the roar of the crowd and the more sustaining and authentic relationships that result when two people speak or write about what matters.

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