China’s historic city of Xi’an has been under strict home confinement for two weeks as Beijing sticks to its “zero-Covid” strategy – Copyright AFP STR
Chinese authorities said Thursday they have punished officials after footage went viral of an eight-month pregnant woman miscarrying in the locked-down city of Xi’an when a hospital refused her entry without a Covid test.
The historic city of 13 million has been under strict home confinement for two weeks as Beijing sticks to its “zero-Covid” strategy to stamp out all virus cases.
The distressing incident was detailed in a social media post by the woman’s niece on January 1, which included photos and video of the woman sitting on a plastic stool outside the hospital surrounded by a pool of blood.
The post was later removed but first gathered hundreds of millions of views and sparked widespread anger online about the hardships some Xi’an residents are facing in the locked-down megacity.
The city government said in a statement Thursday the incident at Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital had aroused “widespread concern and caused a bad social impact” and the local health bureau was investigating.
The hospital’s general manager had been suspended and “relevant responsible persons” at the outpatient department were removed from their posts, it said.
The city’s health commission had also instructed the hospital to “apologise to the public, actively reflect, and sort out hidden dangers in the work process”.
“A warning” was given to the head of Xi’an’s emergency response team and the health commission director, the statement said, adding that they did not “meet the requirements for the treatment of special populations”.
Posted on the city government’s official WeChat account, the statement racked up more than 290 million views within hours of being published — illustrating the huge interest the case has generated within China.
According to the January 1 post that went viral, staff refused to admit the heavily pregnant woman for two hours because she did not have a negative Covid test within the last 48 hours.
Her niece wrote that she did hold a negative test result, but that it had expired by just a few hours.
AFP could not verify the post, and calls to the hospital went unanswered.
On Wednesday, officials told reporters that Xi’an was opening “green channels” to provide quick access to medical services to certain groups — such as pregnant women and patients with critical illnesses — without referencing this case.
Coronavirus cases in China remain very low by international standards. But in recent weeks, infections have reached a high not seen since March 2020.
There were 189 cases reported Thursday, including 63 in Xi’an.
TikTok Looks to Expand Content Horizons with New, Integrated ‘Stories’ Test
As TikTok continues its rapid ascent, with the app now on track to reach 1.5 billion users in 2022, it’s also seeking to expand its content horizons, with a view to increased monetization of that collective attention, and providing more capacity for creators to generate revenue from their clips.
Which is where this latest test comes in. As highlighted by social media expert Matt Navarra (via Kev Adriano), TikTok is making a change to its still experimental Stories feature, which would integrate TikTok Stories into the main ‘For You’ and ‘Following’ feeds in the app, as opposed to keeping its Stories element in its own separate space.
As you can see in this image, TikTok’s looking to integrate Stories creation into the main feed, which would essentially make Stories another content option, enabling users to create multi-frame sequences of clips and still images that users would then be able to view in-stream, just like any other clip.
Which is a big shift from how TikTok Stories were initially presented in August last year, with Stories added to a new left of screen sidebar, giving them a dedicated space, but also shifting users out of the main feed experience.
This updated format essentially merges Stories presentation into the focal stream, which seems like a much better way to go, as it doesn’t obscure the main screen with an intrusive side bar, while it would also expand Stories viewing, as they’d be included in your regular display, instead of an alternate element.
Users will also be able to view Stories from their connections and users that they don’t follow, adding a new content consideration in the app.
You can see in the below example how the new Stories format looks in-stream, with a blue ‘Story’ marker on the first frame, and an indicator at the bottom of the screen as to how many total frames are in the Story.
Users would then tap on the video to move to the next frame, which could take a moment for TikTok users to re-adjust to, with a new UI merged into the experience. But it could be a good way to maximize user engagement, while as noted, it would also add another way to build on TikTok’s content opportunities, with a view to expanded monetization potential in the app.
Stories would also be marked as such on user profiles, with a counter as to the total frames in each.
It still seems a little clunky, with the presentation looking more like a placeholder in some respects, but the feature is still in early testing, as TikTok works on integrating these new options with a view to an expanded launch some time in future.
If it makes it that far. It’s hard to say whether the format will work within the TikTok experience, or whether it will just annoy users with an alternative process for viewing content. Which is no doubt what TikTok is working to determine right now, and while it does seem like it could take a moment of adjustment, it may well be a good addition, which, as noted, could help TikTok broaden its content offerings in order to provide more opportunities for creators in the app.
TikTok has also expanded the maximum length for TikTok clips several times, while it’s also developing its live-stream commerce tools, providing more ways to reach its growing audience, and keep them engaged beyond the short clips that dominate the main feed. Which is one of the platform’s key focal points – while short clips are clearly the trend of the moment, if TikTok wants to capitalize on its opportunities, it needs to become more than just Vine 2.0.
Essentially, TikTok needs to become a fully-fledged social network, catering to a range of users, with a range of content options. That will ensure that can expand its appeal even further, while also increasing its ad surfaces.
Stories is just the latest experiment, but you can bet that TikTok is also testing a range of other content formats and options as it eyes the next phase of its global expansion.
Worth noting – the Chinese version of TikTok, ‘Douyin’, recently began testing ‘paid short dramas’, allowing users to pay for individual episodes of longer, in-stream shows, as part of its own content expansion plans.
Maybe that’ll be TikTok’s next step.
Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers
With the rise of digital avatars, and indeed, fully digital characters that have evolved into genuine social media influencers in their own right, online platforms now have an obligation to establish clear markers as to what’s real and what’s not, and how such creations can be used in their apps.
The coming metaverse shift will further complicate this, with the rise of virtual depictions blurring the lines of what will be allowed, in terms of representation. But with many virtual influencers already operating, Meta is now working to establish ethical boundaries on their application.
As explained by Meta:
“From synthesized versions of real people to wholly invented “virtual influencers” (VIs), synthetic media is a rising phenomenon. Meta platforms are home to more than 200 VIs, with 30 verified VI accounts hosted on Instagram. These VIs boast huge follower counts, collaborate with some of the world’s biggest brands, fundraise for organizations like the WHO, and champion social causes like Black Lives Matter.”
At first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily realize that this is not an actual person, which makes such characters a great vehicle for brand and product promotions, as they can be utilized 24/7, and can be placed into any environment. But that also leads to concerns about body image perception, deepfakes, and other forms of misuse through false or unclear representation.
Deepfakes, in particular, may be problematic, with Meta citing this campaign, with English football star David Beckham, as an example of how new technologies are evolving to expand the use of language, as one element, for varying purpose.
The well-known ‘DeepTomCruise’ account on TikTok is another example of just how far these technologies have come, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where they could be used to, say, show a politician saying or doing something that he or she actually didn’t, which could have significant real world impacts.
Which is why Meta is working with developers and experts to establish clearer boundaries on such use – because while there is potential for harm, there are also beneficial uses for such depictions.
“Imagine personalized video messages that address individual followers by name. Or celebrity brand ambassadors appearing as salespeople at local car dealerships. A famous athlete would make a great tutor for a kid who loves sports but hates algebra.”
Such use cases will increasingly become the norm as VR and AR technologies are developed, with these platforms placing digital characters front and center, and establishing new norms for digital connection.
It would be better to know what’s real and what’s not, and as such, Meta needs clear regulations to remove dishonest depictions, and enforce transparency over VI use.
But then again, much of what you see on Instagram these days is not real, with filters and editing tools altering people’s appearance well beyond what’s normal, or realistic. That can also have damaging consequences, and while Meta’s looking to implement rules on VI use, there’s arguably a case for similar transparency in editing tools applied to posted videos and images as well.
That’s a more complex element, particularly as such tools also enable people to feel more comfortable in posting, which no doubt increases their in-app activity. Would Meta be willing to put more focus on this element if it could risk impacting user engagement? The data on the impact of Instagram on people’s mental health are pretty clear, with comparison being a key concern.
Should that also come under the same umbrella of increased digital transparency?
It’s seemingly not included in the initial framework as yet, but at some stage, this is another element that should be examined, especially given the harmful effects that social media usage can have on young women.
But however you look at it, this is no doubt a rising element of concern, and it’s important for Meta to build guardrails and rules around the use of virtual influencers in their apps.
You can read more about Meta’s approach to virtual influencers here.
Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps
Meta has published a new set of safety tips for journalists to help them protect themselves in the evolving online connection space, which, for the most part, also apply to all users more broadly, providing a comprehensive overview of the various tools and processes that it has in place to help people avoid unwanted attention online.
The 32-page guide is available in 21 different languages, and provides detailed overviews of Meta’s systems and profile options for protection and security, with specific sections covering Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.
The guide begins with the basics, including password protections and enabling two-factor authentication.
It also outlines tips for Page managers in securing their business profiles, while there are also notes on what to do if you’ve been hacked, advice for protection on Messenger and guidance on bullying and harassment.
For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.
While for WhatsApp, there are explainers on how to delete messages, how to remove messages from group chats, and details on platform-specific data options.
There are also links to various additional resource guides and tools for more context, providing in-depth breakdowns of when and how to action the various options.
It’s a handy guide, and while there are some journalist-specific elements included, most of the tips do apply to any user, so it could well be a valuable resource for anyone looking to get a better handle on your various privacy tools and options.
Definitely worth knowing either way – you can download the full guide here.
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