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Google Removes Default Selfie Filters on Pixel Phones to Reduce Unhealthy Comparison



Google has this week announced an important development in its approach to image editing, and filters applied to images taken via its Pixel device.

One of the key concerns in the modern digital age is comparison, and users matching themselves up, unfairly, against highly edited and crafted images of people online, which are often not representative of reality.

Various social platforms are already investigating ways in which they can address issues with comparison and filter-fatigue. And this week, Google has taken a significant step in its own approach to such, by announcing that it will be removing filters applied by default in selfie images taken on Pixel devices.

As explained by Google:

“We conducted multiple studies and spoke with child and mental health experts from around the world, and found that when people are not aware that a camera or photo app has applied a filter, the photos can negatively impact mental wellbeing. These default filters can quietly set a beauty standard that some people compare themselves against.”

As a result of its investigations, Google’s looking to make its filter usage more transparent, while it’s also removing references to ‘beauty’ in its retouching tools.

“Starting with the Pixel 4a, the new Pixel 4a (5G) and Pixel 5, face retouching options are available in the camera app, but turned off by default. In an upcoming update, you’ll see value-free, descriptive icons and labels for face retouching options. And if you choose to use face retouching effects, you’ll see more information about how each setting is applied and what changes it makes to your image.”

Pixel selfie

That may seem like a fairly minor step, but it’s significant in the broader battle against unrealistic comparison, especially with respect to younger, more impressionable users, who are increasingly conducting more of their personal interactions online.

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Here’s one of the most important truths that people need to understand about social media and the content shared by people on social platforms: It is not necessarily representative of their reality.

In most cases, what you’re seeing on social media is a highlight reel, a collection of that person’s best moments, while leaving out all the bad, all the mundane, all the regular, everyday things that we all go through and experience, but we don’t necessarily want to be posting accompanied by a cute hashtag and a smiling emoji.

And that can make social media overwhelming. When you’re looking at all these holidays snaps and exercise photos from your former classmates, neighbors, work colleagues, etc. Inevitably, you’re going to compare yourself to these images – and that comparison, in many cases, will not be favorable. It can make you feel like a failure, it can make you feel ugly. But the underlying truth, in almost every case, is that the comparison you’re applying is simply not fair.

That’s why Stories offer a welcome relief from the perfection of crafted and curated Instagram selfies – because at least in Stories you get to see a small, often goofy snippet of someone’s life. That’s more relatable, and harder to polish and edit, because while you can still add filters to videos, you can’t use digital tools to change your personality. Short, quick videos humanize people, and reduce those unfair comparisons, which is why they’ve seen such a rise, and why, it could be argued that it’s actually important to have a Stories option on as many platforms as possible in order to balance out the fiction of our digital storybook lives.

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TikTok clips are another example of the same trend. On TikTok, while there is still a concerning focus on beauty, there’s also an even bigger focus on creativity and fun, and not taking yourself too seriously. Sure, young girls wearing tight clothes still use the platform to farm for likes as a means of self-validation – which, given a third of TikTok users in the US are under 14 is a massive issue. But moving beyond the crafted selfie is part of the platform’s popularity, and part of social media culture more broadly, and the evolution of social networks.

And that’s an important shift – as with Google’s new experiment, we need to find ways to shift away from unrealistic representations of day to day life, in order to reduce the pressure on people to be perfect, to have perfect skin, to always be in shape, always be wearing the latest fashion, etc.

Because that’s not how life is. Especially right now, as we all work from home – in fact, I’m guessing most people reading this are wearing sweatpants with messy hair and tired eyes. Because that’s life, that’s reality, and social media has distorted that in many ways.

It now feels like there’s a renewed shift back to more accurate representation, which is why this new experiment from Google is an important, and valuable, step.

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Meta’s Developing and ‘Ethical Framework’ for the Use of Virtual Influencers



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.”

Some of the more well-known examples on this front are Shudu, who has more than 200k followers on Instagram, and Lil’ Miquela, who has an audience of over 3 million in the app.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Meta Publishes New Guide to the Various Security and Control Options in its Apps



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.

Meta security guide

For Instagram, there are also general security tips, along with notes on its comment moderation tools.

Meta security guide

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.

Meta security guide

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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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump



Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Trump

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with relatives of slain commander Qasem Soleimani ahead of the second anniverary of his death in a US drone strike in Iraq – Copyright POOL/AFP/File Tom Brenner

Twitter said Saturday it had permanently suspended an account linked to Iran’s supreme leader that posted a video calling for revenge for a top general’s assassination against former US president Donald Trump.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

The account, @KhameneiSite, this week posted an animated video showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump, who ordered a drone strike in Baghdad two years ago that killed top Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s main accounts in various languages remain active. Last year, another similar account was suspended by Twitter over a post also appearing to reference revenge against Trump.

The recent video, titled “Revenge is Definite”, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.

According to Twitter, the company’s top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Soleimani was the architect of its strategy in the Middle East.

He and his Iraqi lieutenant were killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.

Khamenei has repeatedly promised to avenge his death.

On January 3, the second anniversary of the strike, the supreme leader and ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi once again threatened the US with revenge.

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Trump’s supporters regularly denounce the banning of the Republican billionaire from Twitter, underscoring that accounts of several leaders considered authoritarian by the United States are allowed to post on the platform.

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