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Is Facebook Really to Blame for Increasing Political Division?



is facebook really to blame for increasing political division

There is a lot to take in from the latest New York Times’ latest report on an internal memo sent by Facebook’s head of VR and AR Andrew Bosworth in regards to Facebook’s influence over voter behavior and societal shifts. 

Bosworth is a senior figure within The Social Network, having first worked as an engineer in 2006, before moving on to head the platform’s mobile ad products from 2012 to 2017, to his current leadership role. As such, ‘Boz’ has had a front row seat to see the company’s rise, and in particular, given his position at the time, to see how Facebook ads influenced (or didn’t) the 2016 US Presidential Election.

And Boz says that Facebook ads did indeed influence the 2016 result, though not in the way that most suspect.

In summary, here are some of the key points which Bosworth addresses in his long post (which he has since published on his Facebook profile), and his stance on each:

  • Russian interference in the 2016 election – Bosworth says that this happened, but that Russian troll farms had no major impact on the final election result
  • Political misinformation – Bosworth says that most misinformation in the 2016 campaign came from people “with no political interest whatsoever” who were seeking to drive traffic to “ad-laden websites by creating fake headlines and did so to make money”. Misinformation from candidates, Boz says, was not a significant factor
  • Cambridge Analytica – Bosworth says that Cambridge Analytica was a ‘non-event’ and that the company was essentially a group of ‘snake oil salesman’ who had no real influence, nor capacity for such. “The tools they used didn’t work, and the scale they used them at wasn’t meaningful. Every claim they have made about themselves is garbage.”
  • Filter bubbles – Bosworth says that, if anything, Facebook users see content from more sources on a subject, not less. The problem is, according to Boz, that broader exposure to different perspectives actually pushes people more to one side: “What happens when you see more content from people you don’t agree with? Does it help you empathize with them as everyone has been suggesting? Nope. It makes you dislike them even more.” 

But despite dismissing all of these factors, Bosworth says that Facebook is responsible for the 2016 election result:

So was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected? I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.”

Bosworth says that the Trump team simply ran a better campaign, on the platform where more people are now getting their news content.

“They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t microtargeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each person. The use of custom audiences, video, ecommerce, and fresh creative remains the high watermark of digital ad campaigns in my opinion.”

The end result, Bosworth says, didn’t come about because people are being polarized by the News Feed algorithm showing them more of what they agree with (and less of what they don’t), nor through complex neuro-targeting of ads based on people’s inherent fears. Any subsequent societal division we’re now seeing which may have come about because of Facebook’s algorithms is due to the fact that its systems “are primarily exposing the desires of humanity itself, for better or worse”.

“In these moments people like to suggest that our consumers don’t really have free will. People compare social media to nicotine. […] Still, while Facebook may not be nicotine I think it is probably like sugar. Sugar is delicious and for most of us there is a special place for it in our lives. But like all things it benefits from moderation.”

Boz’s final stance here is that people should be able to decide for themselves how much ‘sugar’ they consume.

“…each of us must take responsibility for ourselves. If I want to eat sugar and die an early death that is a valid position.”

So if Facebook users choose to polarize themselves with the content available on its platform, then that’s their choice.

The stance is very similar to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s position on political ads, and not subjecting such to fact-checks:

People should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying. And if content is newsworthy, we also won’t take it down even if it would otherwise conflict with many of our standards.”

Essentially, Facebook is saying it has no real stake in this, that it’s merely a platform for information sharing. And if people get something out of that experience, and they come back more often as a result, then it’s up to them to regulate just how much they consume.

As noted there’s a lot to consider here – and it is worth pointing out that these are Bosworth’s opinions only, and they are not necessarily representative of Facebook’s company stance more generally, though they do align with other disclosures from the company on these issues.

It’s interesting to note, in particular, Boz’s dismissal of filter bubbles, which are considered by most to be a key element in Facebook’s subsequent political influence. Bosworth says that, contrary to popular opinion, Facebook actually exposes users to significantly more content sources than they would have seen in times before the internet.

Ask yourself how many newspapers and news programs people read/watched before the internet. If you guessed “one and one” on average you are right, and if you guessed those were ideologically aligned with them you are right again. The internet exposes them to far more content from other sources (26% more on Facebook, according to our research).”

Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg quoted this same research in October last year, noting more specifically that 26% of the news which Facebook users see in their represents “another point of view.”

So the understanding that Facebook is able to radicalize users by aligning their feed with their established views is flawed, at least according to this insight – but then again, providing more sources surely also enables users to pick and choose the publishers and Pages that they agree with, and subsequently follow, which must eventually influence their opinion through a constant stream of content from a larger set of politically-aligned Pages, reinforcing their perspective.

In fact, that finding seems majorly flawed. Facebook’s News Feed doesn’t show you a random assortment of content from different sources, it shows you posts from Pages that you follow, along with content shared by your connections. If you’re connected to people who post things that you don’t like or disagree with, what do you do? You mute them, or you remove them as connections. In this sense, it seems impossible that Facebook could be exposing all of its users a more balanced view of each subject, based on a broader variety of inputs.

But then again, you are likely to see content from a generally broader mix of other Pages in your feed, based on what friends have Liked and shared. If Facebook is using that as a proxy, then it seems logical that you would see content from a wider range of different Pages, but few of them would likely align with political movements. It may also be, as it is with most social platforms, that a small number of users have outsized influence over such trends – so while, on average, more people might see a broader variety of content overall, the few active users who are sharing certain perspectives could have more sway overall.

It’s hard to draw any significant conclusions without the internal research, but it feels like that can’t be correct, that users can’t be exposed to more perspectives on a platform which enables you, so easily, to block other perspectives out, and follow the Pages which reinforce your stance.

That still seems to be the biggest issue, that Facebook users can pick and choose what they want to believe, and build their own eco-system around that. A level of responsibility, of course, also comes back to the publishers who are sharing more divisive, biased, partisan perspectives, but they’re arguably doing so because they know that it will spark debate, because it’ll spark comments and shares and lead to further distribution of their posts, gaining them more site traffic. Because Facebook, via its algorithm, has made such engagement a key measure in generating maximum reach through its network. 

Could Facebook really have that level of influence over publisher decisions? 

Consider this – in 2018, Facebook overtook print newspapers as a source of news content in the US.

Pew Research print newspapers

Facebook clearly does have the sway to influence editorial decisions – so while Facebook may say that it’s not on them, that they don’t have any influence over what people think, or the news that they choose to believe, it could arguably be blamed for the initial polarization of news coverage in the first place, and that alone could have lead to more significant societal division.

But really, what Boz says is probably right. Russian interference may have nudged a few voters a little more in a certain direction, misinformation from politicians, specifically, is likely less influential than random memes from partisan Pages. People have long questioned the true capabilities of Cambridge Analytica and its psychographic audience profiling, while filter bubbles, as noted, seem like they have to have had some impact, but maybe less than we think.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Facebook has no responsibility to bear. Clearly, given its influence and the deteriorating state of political debate, the platform is playing a role in pushing people more towards the left or right respectively.

Could it be that Facebook’s algorithms have simply changed the way political content is covered by outlets, or that giving every person a voice has lead to more people voicing their beliefs, which has awakened existing division that we just weren’t aware of previously?

That then could arguably be fueling more division anyway – if you see that your brother, for example, has taken a stance which opposes your own, you’re more likely to reconsider your own position based on it coming from someone you respect. 

Add to that the addictive dopamine rush of self-validation which comes from Likes and comments, prompting more personal sharing of such, and maybe Boz is right. Maybe, Facebook is simply ‘sugar’, and we only have ourselves to blame for coming back for more.

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US YouTuber who staged plane crash jailed for six months



Trevor Jacob staged a dramatic plane crash that saw him bail out high over Southern California in a bid to garner viewers

Trevor Jacob staged a dramatic plane crash that saw him bail out high over Southern California in a bid to garner viewers – Copyright AFP/File Lionel BONAVENTURE


A daredevil YouTuber who deliberately crashed his plane to boost the number of viewers on his channel and then lied about it to investigators has been jailed for six months after reaching a plea deal, US authorities said Monday.

In a video of the event entitled “I crashed my airplane,” Trevor Jacob appears to experience engine trouble while flying over southern California in November 2021.

The dramatic footage, viewed millions of times on YouTube, shows Jacob, now 30, ejecting from the single-engine plane — selfie stick in hand — and parachuting into the dense vegetation of Los Padres National Forest.

Cameras placed all over the aircraft show its out-of-control descent into the forest, and its eventual crash landing.

Jacob, a former Olympic snowboarder, films himself hiking to the wreckage where he appears dismayed to discover the water he packed has disappeared.

He does, however, have the presence of mind to recover the footage from cameras.

He then documents an apparently arduous trek through undergrowth to reach safety.

In the weeks after the incident, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launched a probe into the crash, and Jacob was ordered to preserve the wreckage.

The YouTuber told officials he did not know where the plane had gone down.

“In fact, on December 10, 2021, Jacob and a friend flew by helicopter to the wreckage site,” the US District Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said Monday.

“There, Jacob used straps to secure the wreckage, which the helicopter lifted and carried to Rancho Sisquoc in Santa Barbara County, where it was loaded onto a trailer attached to Jacob’s pickup truck.”

The remains of the single engine plane were cut into small pieces and dumped in trash bins in and around Lompoc City Airport, in a bid to hide evidence of the crash.

The FAA, the body that regulates flying in the United States, yanked Jacob’s pilot’s license in April 2022.

When investigators closed in, Jacob cut a deal and agreed to plead guilty to one count of destruction and concealment with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation.

“Jacob lied to federal investigators when he submitted an aircraft accident incident report that falsely indicated that the aircraft experienced a full loss of power,” the US District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

“[Jacob] most likely committed this offense to generate social media and news coverage for himself and to obtain financial gain,” federal prosecutors said.

“Nevertheless, this type of ‘daredevil’ conduct cannot be tolerated.”

Jacob’s original video, along with several others he posted after the escapade, have now been removed from YouTube, but a copy can be seen here:

Pilots and aviation experts have been immensely critical of Jacob in the almost two years since the video was initially published.

Many noted that Jacob had failed to take even elementary steps to restart his plane’s apparently troubled engine.

Others pointed out that he could easily have safely glided the plane to a landing spot, and that wearing a parachute while flying a small aircraft was highly unusual.

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Snap On How It Empowered Women’s With AR Storytellling



Snap On How It Empowered Women’s With AR Storytellling

Snapchat has won the AR/VR category at The Drum Awards for Creativity. Here is the award-winning case study.

In France, like many western countries, public space lacks monuments honouring women. What about empowering Women’s Legacy through Augmented Reality? As a storytelling company, Snap knows that stories have the power to change hearts, minds, and behaviors. Stories create empathy, which can inspire behavior change across Snap and the broader industry. And although our industry is data-driven, we understand numbers are not a substitute for lived experience. The differing lived experience of underrepresented groups can reduce feelings of belonging, which in turn reduces opportunity to realize potential. Snap’s goal in inspiring empathy is to create a shared culture of belonging for all.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, March 8, 2023, Snap’s AR Studio has been honouring 8 emblematic women in 8 major French cities (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Strasbourg, Metz and Nantes) through a unique augmented reality experience: “March 8, 8 women”. “March 8, 8 women” has been a unique opportunity to demonstrate Augmented Reality’s impact in supporting Great National Cause (French president Emmanuel Macron has declared Equity a priority for 2023), while showcasing Snap’s creative and technologic leadership in AR.

While as many women as men have marked the course of history, the vast majority of sculptures in the urban space in France (squares, gardens and streets) honour male characters. Snap’s AR Studio has thus imagined augmented reality statues of women who have left their mark on history in the fields of politics, arts and letters or resistance. These augmented reality statues are installed next to the physical statues of their male counterparts – hence creating a silent dialogue between two historical figures, a male & a female, a physical & a virtual, both having lived in the same era, walked similar fields, achieved close successes.

Each of these 8 virtual statues honours the achievements of the following 8 great women in history and helps to commemorate their contributions to French society:

Simone Veil: Champion of women’s rights, emblem of the 1975 law that legalized abortion, and the first female president of the European Parliament. Her augmented reality statue will be positioned next to the physical one of General Charles de Gaulle on the Champs-Elysées roundabout in Paris.

Simone de Beauvoir: An acclaimed writer and philosopher of the existentialist movement. As an anti-conformist, she advocated for the emancipation of women in her writings, such as her 1949 book The Second Sex, and became one of the pioneers of French feminism in the 20th century. Her augmented reality statue will be placed next to the physical one of 20th century poet and writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, at Place Bellecour in Lyon.

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun: Admitted to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1783 and the official painter to Marie Antoinette, she achieved critical and popular success in the artistic world despite the many obstacles facing female artists of her time. Her augmented reality statue will be placed next to the physical one of 18th century artist Pierre Puget, in the Parc Borély in Marseille.

Françoise de Graffigny: One of the most emblematic female figures of 18th century French literature, best known for her philosophical essay Letters from a Peruvian Woman published in 1747. Her augmented reality statue will be positioned next to the physical one of renown philosopher Montesquieu, at Place des Quinconces in Bordeaux.

Manon Tardon: Figure of the French Resistance and Free France, she was present on May 8, 1945, in Berlin when the surrender of Nazi Germany was signed. Her augmented reality statue will be positioned next to the physical one of World War 2 hero Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, at Square Amiral Halgan in Nantes.

Josephine Baker: An American-born singer, actress, feminist, showgirl, and French resistance fighter, Josephine Baker was a spy for the Free French Forces, an emblem of the Paris of the Roaring Twenties, and an influential figure in the fight against racial segregation. Her augmented reality statue will be placed next to the physical one of resistant fighter Jean Moulin, at Gare Centrale in Metz.

Olympe de Gouges: Principal author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen published in 1791, she is considered one of the French pioneers of feminism. Her augmented reality statue will be positioned next to the physical one of French Revolution leader Jean-Baptiste Kléber, at Place Kléber in Strasbourg.

Hubertine Auclert: Journalist, feminist activist, and founder of the society Le droit des femmes in 1876, she advocated for women’s economic independence, the right to education, and equality in marriage and divorce. Her augmented reality statue will be positioned next to the physical one of early 20th-century activist Léon Trulin, at Place du Théâtre (not far from the Lille Opera).

“Through this innovative experience installed in 8 cities in France, we want to pay tribute to 8 women who have changed French history and society through their actions, their writings, or their positions. Thanks to Snap’s augmented reality technologies, we were able to celebrate those 8 women by building their statues in the public space by placing them alongside statues of men. By establishing a silent dialogue between these historical figures, our wish is to raise public awareness of the fight for women’s rights.” — Donatien Bozon, AR Studio Director.

To design this outstanding augmented reality experience, AR Studio Paris teamed up with French Women’s Rights advocate and influencer Aude Gogny-Goubert, drew inspiration from academic essays (Women & cities, Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2004), and requested the patronage of SnapWomen EMEA, a Snap’s Employee Representative Group supporting Equity. An all-female panel vetted the 8 female historical figures (and their male counterpart), from more than twenty curated candidates.

It took AR Studio Paris and its partners a total of 3 months, from ideation to launch, to create true virtual monument as close to physical ones as possible. 3D artists and producers scrutinized the physical statues in order to develop a virtual counterpart replicating sculpting techniques and materials. AR engineers exploited Snap Inc. proprietary technologies (Location AR, Environment mapping, Surface Tracking…) to bring this augmented reality experience to life.

The AR experience “March 8, 8 Women” has been available since March 8, 2023, sharing, with Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Strasbourg, Metz and Nantes citizen and visitors, 8 permanent virtual monument exclusively available on Snapchat… thus building momentum to advocate Equity across France.

Snap believes that augmented reality—digital content overlaid over the real world—represents the next major shift in computing. Like ephemeral messaging and vertical video, Snap also pioneered augmented reality. Today Snap is leading in AR, from a technology, scale, and creator perspective. Snap’s vision for AR is rooted in innovation and stems from our desire to solve problems for our community in a creative way through human-centric design, and the desire to create a more positive reality rather than escape the problems our society faces. As it turns out, Snapchatters love the world around them and the friends and family they share it with, so why not use technology to enhance it for the better?

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An Overview of the Evolving Data Landscape Powering AI, VR, and More [Infographic]



An Overview of the Evolving Data Landscape Powering AI, VR, and More [Infographic]

While AI and large language models (LLMs) become more commonplace, it’s worth considering the amount of computational power, and data storage, that these systems require to operate. 

Demand for high-grade GPUs, for example, is still exceeding demand, as more tech companies and investors look to muscle in, while the big players continue to build on their data center capacity, in order to beat smaller systems out of the market.

That, inevitably, means that control over many of these new processes will eventually fall to those with the most money, and even if you have concerns about next-level computational power being governed by CEOs and corporations, there’s not a heap that you can do about it, as they need an established holding to even get in.

Well, unless a government steps in and seeks to build its own infrastructure in order to facilitate AI development, though that seems unlikely.

And it’s not just AI, with crypto processes, complex analysis, and advanced scientific discovery now largely reliant on a few key providers that have available capacity.

It’s a concern, but essentially, you can expect to see a lot more investment in big data centers and processing facilities over the coming years.

This new overview from Visual Capitalist (for Hive Digital) provides some additional context. Here, the VC team have broken down the current data center landscape, and what we’re going to need to facilitate next-level AI, VR, the metaverse, and more.

It’s an eye-opening summary. You can check out Visual Capitalists’ full overview here.

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