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Connecting online, tornado victims track down lost treasures

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Connecting online, tornado victims track down lost treasures


The “Quad State Tornado Found Items” Facebook group has been reconnecting people with their lost pets, official documents and family photos after deadly storms hit Kentucky and surrounding areas – Copyright AFP Pedro PARDO

Daniel Stublen

Abigail Miller’s parents lost practically all they owned in the weekend twisters that ravaged their small Kentucky town.

But with the help of strangers, they tracked down photographs of their daughter’s graduation — via social media groups which thousands are using to reconnect storm victims with cherished possessions strewn many miles away.

In preparation for a move, Miller’s parents had placed all their belongings in a storage unit in Dawson Springs, among the places hardest hit when tornadoes ripped homes apart across five US states last weekend.

The young pharmacy tech, who lives out of state, was relieved to hear they had evacuated ahead of the storm, but devastated to find out about their lost belongings.

“We didn’t expect to find anything,” said the 19-year-old.

But she soon noticed that an old schoolmate had shared a photo of her in a Facebook group called “Quad State Tornado Found Items.”

Then she got tagged in another photo in the group.

“Is this you?” commented the poster, Lisa Graham.

“Yes it is me and my parents,” Miller replied, “Thank you so much!”

The photos of Abigail Miller, with her parents at her high school graduation, had flown all the way to Philpot, Kentucky, almost an hour and a half away by car.

More of their photographs were found by others in Philpot, and each finder was more than willing to mail them back.

“Some even asked what our family needed for Christmas,” she said.

– ‘That’s my memaw!’

The “Quad State Tornado Found Items” group now has over 66,000 members, and is growing by the hour.

People are using the group to help reconnect lost pets, official documents, and hundreds of family photos — each item offering a glimpse into the lives upended by the tornadoes.

One shows a father in the year 2000, holding his newborn baby in hospital.

Another shows two men in tuxedos at a 1980s wedding.

A few black-and-white photos show young men in uniforms during World War II.

The original owners are often identified within minutes through crowdsourcing, as family members and friends tag their loved ones in the comments section.

“That’s my memaw! I’ll message you!” Dani Runkel commented under a torn photo of her grandmother holding a Christmas present.

Other messages reveal the tragedy that has struck many families.

“This is my uncle who died in the tornado,” reads a comment below a torn yearbook photo.

“This is my grandmother,” a woman commented below an image of a 1998 funeral pamphlet. “It’s from my dad’s house that was destroyed in Princeton KY.”

– ‘I’d want the same thing’ –

Beyond family photos, tornado victims are also using online groups to reconnect with their pets.

Laura Pratt, a teacher in western Kentucky, was anxious when her husband called to say he had found a stray dog while helping a friend with storm clean-up — and was bringing it home.

“I’ve got a dog, I didn’t know how it would react. I also knew my son would fall in love with her,” said Pratt.

She knew for certain however that her husband did the right thing.

“That’s your family member. If my dog was missing, I’d want the same thing.”

Pratt’s dog had run away before, so she knew there were dedicated Facebook groups for finding missing pets.

She posted photos of the dog, a blind dachshund with a big brown spot on her head.

A few people reached out offering to buy the animal if its owner could not be found.

Three days later came a message from Shari Howard of Benton, another town in western Kentucky hit by tornadoes:

“This is my dog! My house and everything got destroyed! Where can I find her? Her name is Willow!”

When Pratt went to meet with her, she knew she had found the right person.

“As soon as the lady picked her up, she relaxed — you knew she was meant to be with her.”

On social media, “you see good in people, you see bad,” said Pratt.

But in the tornado aftermath, she takes pride in the number of strangers offering assistance online and organizing drives.

“It shows the strength of our community.”



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The Most Visited Websites in the World – 2023 Edition [Infographic]

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The Most Visited Websites in the World - 2023 Edition [Infographic]

Google remains the most-visited website in the world, while Facebook is still the most frequented social platform, based on web traffic. Well, actually, YouTube is, but YouTube’s only a partial social app, right?

The findings are displayed in this new visualization from Visual Capitalist, which uses SimilarWeb data to show the most visited websites in bubble chart format, highlighting the variance in traffic.

As you can see, following Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the next most visited social platforms, which is likely in line with what most would expect – though the low numbers for TikTok probably stand out, given its dominance of modern media zeitgeist.

But there is a reason for that – this data is based on website visits, not app usage, so platforms like TikTok and Snapchat, which are primarily focused on the in-app experience, won’t fare as well in this particular overview.

In that sense, it’s interesting to see which social platforms are engaging audiences via their desktop offerings.

You can check out the full overview below, and you can read Visual Capitalist’s full explainer here.

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Cheeky branding wins (and missteps)

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Branding and rebranding is getting more fun, here we look at some of cheekiest brands that have caught our eye – for the right and wrong reasons.



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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

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Google Outlines Ongoing Efforts to Combat China-Based Influence Operations Targeting Social Apps

Over the past year, Google has repeatedly noted that a China-based group has been looking to use YouTube, in particular, to influence western audiences, by building various channels in the app, then seeding them with pro-China content.

There’s limited info available on the full origins or intentions of the group, but today, Google has published a new overview of its ongoing efforts to combat the initiative, called DRAGONBRIDGE.

As explained by Google:

In 2022, Google disrupted over 50,000 instances of DRAGONBRIDGE activity across YouTube, Blogger, and AdSense, reflecting our continued focus on this actor and success in scaling our detection efforts across Google products. We have terminated over 100,000 DRAGONBRIDGE accounts in the IO network’s lifetime.

As you can see in this chart, DRAGONBRIDGE is by far the most prolific source of coordinated information operations that Google has detected over the past year, while Google also notes that it’s been able to disrupt most of the project’s attempted influence, by snuffing out its content before it gets seen.

Dragonbridge

Worth noting the scale too – as Google notes, DRAGONBRIDGE has created more than 100,000 accounts, which includes tens of thousands of YouTube channels. Not individual videos, entire channels in the app, which is a huge amount of work, and content, that this group is producing.

That can’t be cheap, or easy to keep running. So they must be doing it for a reason.

The broader implication, which has been noted by various other publications and analysts, is that DRAGONBRIDGE is potentially being supported by the Chinese Government, as part of a broader effort to influence foreign policy approaches via social media apps. 

Which, at this kind of scale, is a concern, while DRAGONBRIDGE has also targeted Facebook and Twitter as well, at different times, and it could be that their efforts on those platforms are also reaching similar activity levels, and may not have been detected as yet.

Which then also relates to TikTok, a Chinese-owned app that now has massive influence over younger audiences in western nations. If programs like this are already in effect, it stands to reason that TikTok is also likely a key candidate for boosting the same, which remains a key concern among regulators and officials in many nations.

The US Government is reportedly weighing a full TikTok ban, and if that happens, you can bet that many other nations will follow suit. Many government organizations are also banning TikTok on official devices, based on advice from security experts, and with programs like DRAGONBRIDGE also running, it does seem like Chinese-based groups are actively operating influence and manipulation programs in foreign nations.

Which seems like a significant issue, and while Google is seemingly catching most of these channels before they have an impact, it also seems likely that this is only one element of a larger push.

Hopefully, through collective action, the impact of such can be limited – but for TikTok, which still reports to Chinese ownership, it’s another element that could raise further questions and scrutiny.

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