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What social networks have learned since the 2016 election

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On the eve on the 2020 U.S. election, tensions are running high.

The good news? 2020 isn’t 2016. Social networks are way better prepared to handle a wide array of complex, dangerous or otherwise ambiguous Election Day scenarios.

The bad news: 2020 is its own beast, one that’s unleashed a nightmare health scenario on a divided nation that’s even more susceptible now to misinformation, hyper-partisanship and dangerous ideas moving from the fringe to the center than it was four years ago.

The U.S. was caught off guard by foreign interference in the 2016 election, but shocking a nation that’s spent the last eight months expecting a convergence of worst-case scenarios won’t be so easy.

Social platforms have braced for the 2020 election in a way they didn’t in 2016. Here’s what they’re worried about and the critical lessons from the last four years that they’ll bring to bear.

Contested election results

President Trump has repeatedly signaled that he won’t accept the results of the election in the case that he loses — a shocking threat that could imperil American democracy, but one social platforms have been tracking closely. Trump’s erratic, often rule-bending behavior on social networks in recent months has served as a kind of stress test, allowing those platforms to game out different scenarios for the election.

Facebook and Twitter in particular have laid out detailed plans about what happens if the results of the election aren’t immediately clear or if a candidate refuses to accept official results once they’re tallied.

On election night, Facebook will pin a message to the top of both Facebook and Instagram telling users that vote counting is still underway. When authoritative results are in, Facebook will change those messages to reflect the official results. Importantly, U.S. election results might not be clear on election night or for some days afterward, a potential outcome for which Facebook and other social networks are bracing.

Facebook election message

Image via Facebook

If a candidate declared victory prematurely, Facebook doesn’t say it will remove those claims, but it will pair them with its message that there’s no official result and voting is still underway.

Twitter released its plans for handling election results two months ago, explaining that it will either remove or attach a warning label to premature claims of victory before authoritative election results are in. The company also explicitly stated that it will act against any tweets “inciting unlawful conduct to prevent a peaceful transfer of power or orderly succession,” a shocking rule to have to articulate, but a necessary one in 2020.

On Monday, Twitter elaborated on its policy, saying that it would focus on labeling misleading tweets about the presidential election and other contested races. The company released a sample image of a label it would append, showing a warning stating that “this tweet is sharing inaccurate information.”

Last week, the company also began showing users large misinformation warnings at the top of their feeds. The messages told users that they “might encounter misleading information” about mail-in voting and also cautioned them that election results may not be immediately known.

According to Twitter, users who try to share tweets with misleading election-related misinformation will see a pop-up pointing them to vetted information and forcing them to click through a warning before sharing. Twitter also says it will act on any “disputed claims” that might cast doubt on voting, including “unverified information about election rigging, ballot tampering, vote tallying, or certification of election results.”

One other major change that many users probably already noticed is Twitter’s decision to disable retweets. Users can still retweet by clicking through a pop-up page, but Twitter made the change to encourage people to quote retweet instead. The effort to slow down the spread of misinformation was striking, and Twitter said it will stay in place through the end of election week, at least.

YouTube didn’t go into similar detail about its decision making, but the company previously said it will put an “informational” label on search results related to the election and below election-related videos. The label warns users that “results may not be final” and points them to the company’s election info hub.

Foreign disinformation

This is one area where social networks have made big strides. After Russian disinformation took root on social platforms four years ago, those companies now coordinate with one another and the government about the threats they’re seeing.

In the aftermath of 2016, Facebook eventually woke up to the idea that its platform could be leveraged to scale social ills like hate and misinformation. Its scorecard is uneven, but its actions against foreign disinformation have been robust, reducing that threat considerably.

A repeat of the same concerns from 2016 is unlikely. Facebook made aggressive efforts to find foreign coordinated disinformation campaigns across its platforms, and it publishes what it finds regularly and with little delay. But in 2020, the biggest concerns are coming from within the country — not without.

Most foreign information operations have been small so far, failing to gain much traction. Last month, Facebook removed a network of fake accounts connected to Iran. The operation was small and failed to generate much traction, but it shows that U.S. adversaries are still interested in trying out the tactic.

Misleading political ads

To address concerns around election misinformation in ads, Facebook opted for a temporary political ad blackout, starting at 12 a.m. PT on November 4 and continuing until the company deems it safe to toggle them back on. Facebook hasn’t accepted any new political ads since October 27 and previously said it won’t accept any ads that delegitimize the results of the election. Google will also pause election-related ads after polls close Tuesday.

Facebook has made a number of big changes to political ads since 2016, when Russia bought Facebook ads to meddle with U.S. politics. Political ads on the platform are subject to more scrutiny and much more transparency now and Facebook’s ad library emerged as an exemplary tool that allows anyone to see what ads have been published, who bought them and how much they spent.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter’s way of dealing with political advertising was cutting it off entirely. The company announced the change a year ago and hasn’t looked back since. TikTok also opted to disallow political ads.

Political violence

Politically motivated violence is a big worry this week in the U.S. — a concern that shows just how tense the situation has grown under four years of Trump. Leading into Tuesday, the president has repeatedly made false claims of voter fraud and encouraged his followers to engage in voter intimidation, a threat Facebook was clued into enough that it made a policy prohibiting “militarized” language around poll watching.

Facebook made a number of other meaningful recent changes, like banning the dangerous pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon and militias that use the platform to organize, though those efforts have come very late in the game.

Facebook was widely criticized for its inaction around a Trump post warning “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” during racial justice protests earlier this year, but its recent posture suggests similar posts might be taken more seriously now. We’ll be watching how Facebook handles emerging threats of violence this week.

Its recent decisive moves against extremism are important, but the platform has long incubated groups that use the company’s networking and event tools to come together for potential real-world violence. Even if they aren’t allowed on the platform any longer, many of those groups got organized and then moved their networks onto alternative social networks and private channels. Still, making it more difficult to organize violence on mainstream social networks is a big step in the right direction.

Twitter also addressed the potential threat of election-related violence in advance, noting that it may add warnings or require users to remove any tweets “inciting interference with the election” or encouraging violence.

Platform policy shifts in 2020

Facebook is the biggest online arena where U.S. political life plays out. While a similar number of Americans watch videos on YouTube, Facebook is where they go to duke it out over candidates, share news stories (some legitimate, some not) and generally express themselves politically. It’s a tinderbox in normal times — and 2020 is far from normal.

While Facebook acted against foreign threats quickly after 2016, the company dragged its feet on platform changes that could be perceived as politically motivated — a hesitation that backfired by incubating dangerous extremists and allowing many kinds of misinformation, particularly on the far-right, to survive and thrive.

In spite of Facebook’s lingering misguided political fears, there are reasons to be hopeful that the company might avert election-related catastrophes.

Whether it was inspired by the threat of a contested election, federal antitrust action or a possible Biden presidency, Facebook has signaled a shift to more thoughtful moderation with a flurry of recent policy enforcement decisions. An accompanying flurry of election-focused podcast and television ads suggests Facebook is worried about public perception too — and it should be.

Twitter’s plan for the election has been well-communicated and detailed. In 2020, the company treats its policy decisions with more transparency, communicates them in real time and isn’t afraid to admit to mistakes. The relatively small social network plays an outsized role in publishing political content that’s amplified elsewhere, so the choices it makes are critical for countering misinformation and extremism.

The companies that host and amplify online political conversation have learned some major lessons since 2016 — mostly the hard way. Let’s just hope it was enough to help them guide their roiling platforms through one of the most fraught moments in modern U.S. history.

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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

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[OPINION] The promise of technology is the promise of people

I would like for you to imagine the promise of technology. Facebook promises to be the gateway to your friends and family, ridesharing and delivery apps efficiency and connection against the grueling commute, your internet service provider cutting-edge reliability and speed. Sometimes, they even give you the promise of the world. When we strip away the allure of technology, what are we left with? A world of disconnect fueled by antagonism and shock that is filtered by content moderators, a non-solution to a systemic transportation crisis that leave us stories of drivers exploited, and aggravated calls on your internet plan. You haven’t quite been given the world — you can’t even connect to your meeting. 

I would like for you to imagine who is behind technology. These promises, delivered or not, are given to us by tech CEOs and eagerly embraced across the world. We hunger for solutions to age-old problems from communication, transportation, news, education, energy, and love — and are eager to receive engineered solutions to these. In turn, those wielding technology offer endless streams to support new entrepreneurs, startups, and products to move us towards wealth and prosperity, each one supposedly more innovative than the last.

Our lives continuously cede to these platforms: our memories live in Facebook albums or the cloud, the rise and fall of political movements can be witnessed online — sometimes excusing us from on-the-grounds participation, developments in artificial intelligence offer us quicker answers, and we favor the simplicity offered a tap away. A hyper-efficient world aided by machines seems to solve society’s ills, until it becomes a sickness in itself.

The invisible laborers behind technology

In truth, our technological futures are built atop of obscured human labor. A phenomenon termed as “ghost work” by anthropologist Mary L. Gray refers to “work performed by a human which a customer believes is being performed by an automated process.”

Take ChatGPT, a general-purpose chatbot released in November 2022 that provides text responses near-instantaneously. It can help you with anything: writing emails, synthesizing data, or even programming itself. 

No machine thinks for itself. Models like ChatGPT are only able to impress us because they build on the breadth of human work, and thus carry the constraints and failures that accompany it. This begins a questioning of this “breadth” in the first place: who designs these models (and their intent), the data these models are trained on, and how this data is classified — of which all steps involve humans.

Widely lauded, universities are rushing to find solutions to potential cheating aided by ChatGPT. College-educated workers, even programmers themselves, begin to worry about employment as their labor seems increasingly replaceable by machines, even if it’s just new labor under the hood that we’re bending towards. 

ChatGPT’s success can largely be attributed to its palatability. While chatbots are not new, the lack of obscenity and profanity in one is. Human input is present at every step of design. The best and worst of humanity is fed into language models (hence the previous issues with obscenity and extremism). Human-aided supervision and reinforcement learning guide these model’s outputs. To ensure ChatGPT was unlike its predecessors, OpenAI recruited an outsourcing firm in Kenya to help design a safer model. The process? To have these outsourced workers manually label examples of profanity, violence, and hate speech to be filtered out, in exchange for pay about $2 (P108) an hour.

This is not a far cry. The Global South has long endured these roles, becoming the invisible army that powers every impressive technology.

Take Facebook for instance, ubiquitous enough that there are countries that understand it as the internet itself. A study conducted by Helani Galpaya showed that more respondents across several countries (including the Philippines) self-reported being “Facebook users” than “internet users.” Meanwhile, Filipino content moderators under intensely-surveilled working conditions screen reports, exposing themselves to graphic sexual content, violence, and extremism on a daily basis. It is incredibly dehumanizing, mentally taxing work that many of us cannot fathom because we’ve never seen it. It is of our best interest to only see the light. It appears that those who gate the internet are often the most gated from the internet themselves.

Who gets to be called a technologist?

Millions of Filipinos enter Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), data-labeling, or content moderation jobs to support the technological infrastructure and rapid pace of “innovation.” Enticed with decent pay, often posted with little to no qualifications necessary, and done in recruitment hub hiring sprees, it’s hard to deny the opportunity to join the workforce and indulge in the industry’s economic promise. Silicon Valley startups (or even the Filipino “Sinigang Valley”) use the excuse of economic opportunity to justify remote outsourcing.

Even those not literally invisible are devalued with this mindset. Underexploited laborers act as the on-demand service providers beneath the shiny interfaces on our phones: our food delivery drivers, content moderators that clean our TikTok feeds, and support staff. Technology is something that can be summoned and controlled, people cannot be — or shouldn’t be.

After all, for technology to be consumable, it has to be palatable. Palatability involves shrouding the violent, intensive human labor needed to maintain technologies. This is why we are moved when we see the Facebook post of a delivery driver left to bear the brunt of canceled orders, wading through weather. Or with “older” technologies: how we turn a blind eye to ruthless production factories that power the fast fashion industry. It reminds us, for a brief moment, of the humanity in everything around us. Instead, companies continue to express technology as the stuff of magic. Perfectly cheap, efficient, and convenient. Then we are moved to hit checkout.

Even Silicon Valley’s model of classically educated laborers are no longer safe themselves. Microsoft has begun talks to invest $10 billion into OpenAI, while at the same time announcing layoffs for 10,000 workers. They are joined by Google and Amazon among others, all companies previously touted to push the boundaries of innovation. As we head towards a global economic downturn, it appears that this at-will treatment previously reserved for the global south now spares no one.

Tech workers, whether working as ride-share drivers, content moderators, or BS Computer Science-educated software engineers — must come together in solidarity with consumers against an industry that has historically erased its people. 

We need to call into question who the “technologists” that drive innovation are, especially when this innovation is at the expense of people. We need to recognize the breadth of forms that a technologist takes, and the truth that the massive forces of labor that write code, serve content, and protect us are continuously exploited. We need to know that maintaining a myopic view of the role of a “technologist” glorifies “technology” alone, detaching it from the human workforce that powers it. Without these laborers, these technologies would effectively be nothing. 

At the end of the day, technology is nothing but a tool. Technology is shaped by people, for people.

I’m not discounting technology’s potential for economic empowerment; I disparage how technology has been used as an exploitative force rather than a transformative one. It is time to reclaim technology and look towards its potential for hope — where this act of reclamation begins with power placed on all tech workers rather than the few.

I want a world where technology is used to put us in dialogue with one another, breaking down barriers instead of enacting more walls that hide us from one another. I want a world where machines don’t replace artists, but instead help more people make more art. I believe in a world where technology is a tool rather than the solution, where we have agency to use it as we please. I believe in a world where we think of people, first and foremost, not over-optimization and hyper-efficiency. I believe in a world where technology is a communal medium in which we can imagine better futures, where everyone is a technologist and engineer, not a tool wielded by the few. 

As technology is a tool, it is time for us to take it back. The truly magical part about technology is that it might be the most human thing about us. It is shaped by people, for people. – Rappler.com

Chia Amisola is Product Designer based in San Francisco, California who graduated with a BA in Computing and the Arts from Yale University in 2022. They are the founder of Developh and the Philippine Internet Archive.

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

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How a meme gave Khe Huy Quan his most significant role

(Credits: Far Out / Press / A24)

Film

Oscar nominee Ke Huy Quan’s acting career has come in two parts, several decades distanced from one another. Having played Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and also performed in The GooniesEncino Man and Head of the Class, Quan took the decision to quit acting in 1992 as he struggled to make the significant progress he was hoping for.

Fast forward to 2021, and Quan secured the role in one of the most celebrated films of last year, Everything Everywhere All at Once, for which he won a Golden Globe and was this week nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Asked how the two Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) came to cast Quan in Everything Everywhere All at Once during a Hollywood Reporter Actor’s Roundtable, Quan responded: “I decided to get back to acting. It was when the Daniels saw somebody did a joke on Facebook, and it was a picture of Andrew Yang running for President. The caption said Short Round is all grown up and he’s running for President, which triggered him to go, ‘Oh, I wonder what Khe is doing?’”

Thankfully for Quan, somebody online made that stupid meme. He added: “[Daniel] started searching, and he was doing the calculations, ‘Oh, he’s about the same age as his character’. It was at the same time that I called an agent friend of mine – I didn’t have an agent for decades – so I was practically begging him to represent me. He said yes.”

Fortunately, the two Daniels were looking for someone of Quan’s ilk just as he had decided to give acting another shot – some 30 years later. Quan went on: “Literally two weeks later, I got a call about the script, and I read it, and I was blown away by the script. Not only was it beautifully written, but it was a script I wanted to read. I was so hungry, so eager for a script like this, for a role like this.”

In fact, the script was so good that Quan remembers staying up all night “reading it until like 5am”. He added: “I sat there, and in my head, I had all these ideas that I wanted to do with this role, and I was watching out the window, the sun was rising, and I said, ‘Oh, I have to go to sleep’, because my audition was in the afternoon.”

However, despite his desire to secure the part, a wave of doubt overcame Quan. “Right before I went to bed, I go, ‘There’s no way they would offer me this.’ It was like impossible; it stars Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis,” he said. But Quan’s wife reassured him of his abilities and “kept encouraging” him.

Quan noted that it had been 25 years since he last auditioned for a part, so naturally, he was nervous. However, he was made comfortable by the Daniels and the film’s casting director, whom he called “amazing” and “so sweet”. Yet he must have feared the worst when he did not hear back for two months. I auditioned and didn’t hear from them for two months. 

The long wait left Quan feeling “miserable” because he “wanted this role so bad.” Then, the call suddenly came in. “I went in to audition for the second time,” he said, which laid the foundations for one of the most important phone calls Quan would ever receive. He added: “You hear those three words, ‘We want you’, and I was screaming so loud, I was jumping up so high, and to this day, I cannot believe how everything came to be.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

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Mystery shaking, rumbling felt along Jersey Shore again. No earthquakes reported.

For the second time this month, residents across southern New Jersey have been reporting long periods of shaking inside their homes Thursday afternoon, with windows and walls rattling. And just like before, there have been no earthquakes reported anywhere in the eastern United States.

There also have been no thunderstorms reported in or near New Jersey on Thursday, but some residents are speculating the rattling inside their homes — along with some reports of loud booms — may be linked to military planes and helicopters flying over the Garden State.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River, a U.S. naval station based in St. Mary’s County in Maryland, issued a noise advisory on its Facebook page Tuesday, saying it would be conducting “noise-generating testing events” between Tuesday and Friday.

“Pilots at NAS Patuxent River will be conducting Field Carrier Landing Practices (FCLPs). FCLPs are simulated carrier landings conducted to prepare the pilot to land safely on an aircraft carrier,” the agency said in its Facebook post.

“The practices consist of series of touch-and-go maneuvers, called ‘bounces.’ Airspeed, altitude and power are all precisely choreographed in order for a pilot to approach the ship within an acceptable window to land on the deck safely,” the post added.

“Residents may notice increased noise levels due to these operations,” the post said.

It wasn’t immediately known how far away the noise would carry. But Facebook has been packed with reports of shaking in homes and businesses across South Jersey Thursday afternoon. The first was around 11 a.m. and the second about two hours later.

Several residents noted they have felt some shaking or heard some loud booms in the past, but they said they never felt the rattling become as intense as it was on Thursday.

Among the towns or sections of towns where rattling was reported were Erma, Cape May, Galloway, Middle Township, North Cape May, Rio Grande and Smithville. Some residents said they felt their houses shake but heard no booms, while others said they heard loud booms.

“My whole house shook. Windows rattle(d), bed moved back and forth. And it was long,” one resident wrote on the Facebook page of South Jersey weather forecaster “Nor’easter Nick” Pittman. “I do hear the jets as I’m in Galloway near the airport, but this just seemed different. No boom, just steady shaking. At first I thought it was the wind but it got stronger.”

Another Facebook user in Atlantic County said: “In Smithville we just shook for a good 45-60 seconds with a small pause, but the dog and cats did not like it, this time was more than the sonic boom or break that we feel at 2 p.m. It was freaky!!”

On Friday, Jan. 13, residents from as far south as Cape May and up to Manahawkin along the coast and as far west as Glassboro in Gloucester County reported feeling shaking in their homes. They said the rattling lasted at least 10 seconds.

A supersonic military airplane was flying a few miles off the coast that day, and could have been the cause of the rumbling, the Press of Atlantic City reported at the time. The military has an Atlantic test track for flights about 3 miles off the eastern seaboard, and a sonic boom would occur if a plane was flying fast enough to break the sound barrier.

South Jersey isn’t alone when it comes to feeling and hearing loud noises. In early January, a loud boom — which some described as being as loud as an explosion — was reported by many people in northern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania.

The cause of that boom was not immediately determined.

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© 2023 Advance Local Media LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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