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How Social Media Challenges can be used for Data Mining

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

Approximately a week ago, I was messaged and tagged by a number of ladies to participate in something called the #ChallengeAccepted black and white challenge. What was this challenge exactly? From my perspective, you were to post a black and white photo of yourself along with the appropriate hashtag. The purpose of this? To promote empowering other females; to lift each other up.

Of course I want to empower other women!! Sign me up right? At the same time, I didn't really feel like posting a black and white selfie ... also - I do model and so I will post up black and white photos of mine and my husband's work with no other higher moral intention other than to show off the pretty pictures that we took. But I felt like at least I was supporting other women by liking and commenting on their pretty black and white photos in response to the hashtag.

There has been criticism of this challenge as being a type of "slacktivism" ; where you just post on social media instead of actioning on real social change in real life. I certainly saw criticism to what was considered a vanity stunt dressed up as feminism or social change.

To be clear: I am not criticizing the challenge. I just did not want to partake. Unfortunately, there were a lot of people who were critical of the challenge. At the same time, I was annoyed. You should just be able to participate freely and post a pretty black and white photo of yourself without the need to defend your decision. An article about the infighting within social justice explained:

"Such infighting, both online and off, can cause political parties and activist movements to fall apart. Arguing about how to achieve the goal that unites them (in this case, feminism) only divides people when they should be uniting."

I totally agree with this. This is not a competition to see who can be the better feminist, we can just support other women - which is what the challenge is about anyways? In posting about this, I ended up getting a barrage of messages from women explaining the connection of the #ChallengeAccepted campaign with Turkish women being murdered; and the protest against femicide.

Zeycan Rochelle Yildirim, who works in education development for a private foundation and lives in Istanbul, told Insider she noticed the black-and-white photos circulating just one day after the trend had popularized in her own community with two Turkish hashtags, #ChallengeAccepted and #WomenSupportingWomen. "Initially I was confused," she said of seeing Americans participate in the challenge without a connection to the Turkish movement. "I felt a little bit sad that the message was being lost."

I realize that I was being given these messages to inform me about the validity of the challenge, as well as to justify their participation. However, this very connection is one that I would consider NOT participating in the challenge.

There are 2 reasons why:

  1. The black and white photo is supposed to show solidarity with women in Turkey whom have been murdered. This is because a black and white photo would be what would be posted after a woman had gone missing. I think that this isn't necessarily something you want to manifest or an energy that can easily go negative. I would rather donate to associations that do good work within the space.

  2. Data mining. Associating a photo or personal information with a curated hashtag makes it easy to run a script in order to mine for data. For what purposes? Unknown.

A quick Google search will display a lot more of the benevolent aspects of data mining; in the sense that social media is a main resource when it comes to big data and thus research. For the most part, I agree that social media is a robust source of big data and the information derived can be used to identify trends and create recommendations based on user behavior. There can be a bit of a fallacy here ... does the behavior on social media truly represent behavior in real life? Not always.

Free tools exist online for developers to scrape data from Instagram, so you do not need to be running a legit research big data study to leverage the data on Instagram, you would just need the technical know-how. Or have someone hire someone to do it for you (this is the project manager in me speaking).

Worst case scenario: You are populating a nefarious database where people will use this information to leverage your digital identity or even just use those photos without your consent or permission. I think the more dodgy challenges are the ones that use apps that "age" you; because this can lead to you providing data points in order to create AI people...

That being said, social media really should be enjoyable - honestly I really do think that. So if you want to participate, by all means. I am not trying to preach or be a digital mom, I am just trying to let people know that they should just perhaps think twice and make an informed decision before participating.

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