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Police reports, social media shamings: Coronavirus has turned some citizens into social distance …



In fact, concern about the highly contagious virus has turned some area residents into social distance vigilantes — cranky and over the top in some cases, justifiably worried in others.

Some call city quality-of-life hot lines. Others dial 911. The most bold send public tweets or Facebook messages to authorities, or surreptitiously snap photos and videos and report them directly to police, demanding they clear parks, halt soccer games, and disperse those they consider scofflaws.

“They probably won’t listen to you or me,” said Cambridge resident Cynthia Haynes. “But if a police officer came out, a state trooper came out, they’d probably leave.”

Haynes, a chef in her 50s whose outdoor exposure is limited now to solitary walks with her dog three times a day and occasional grocery store jaunts, worries about the well-being of residents most vulnerable to the virus, including her mother, who’s in her 80s. So when Haynes sees people clustered in parks or in public, she takes action.

The first surveillance video she sent to police captured some teens playing basketball at Hoyt Field in Cambridge. A police officer, Haynes said, told her the basketball rims would soon be gone.

Another video captured adults at a park along Memorial Drive using an outdoor fitness station — without wiping down the equipment. That prompted her to ask the city to put fencing around the area.

Records show hundreds of annoyed citizens from all over the Boston area have logged similar complaints in recent weeks, with calls to municipal 311 services or in social media posts directed at police.

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One complaint from Allston read: “Landscape people with leaf blowers during a crisis? Can we stop this air blown COVID-19 spread? Please send Cops.”

Another featured a photo shot through a window screen in South Boston showing a half-dozen people chatting outside a home “No Social distancing?? What happened to 6 feet apart? I’m concerned for neighbors and passers-by. . . . One or two are coughing quite a bit too.”

Barbara Anthony, former Massachusetts undersecretary for consumer affairs, got into the mix recently, tweeting a photo of a gathering of people in Harvard Square on a sunny day, along with the tag #StayHome.

A former prosecutor, Anthony is no stranger to levying criticism and said extraordinary times call for people to speak out, loudly. “That lack of responsibility [by people who don’t social distance] doesn’t just impact a single individual, it impacts entire communities . . . it affects all of us,” she said. “I think we need stricter enforcement.”

But if you thought the accused would go down without a fight, you’d be wrong. Some have fired back at their complainants.

One person in Roslindale wrote in to Boston’s 311 service: “News flash folks — a family playing baseball at Fallon field is not going [to] spread COVID-19. Mind your own business and [find] something else to complain about.”

Still, law enforcement has taken notice of the illicit gatherings. After a resident tweeted at the City of Somerville about people “not practicing social distancing in the park,” the city quickly responded, and dispatched an officer to the scene.

Spokesmen for area police agencies said people have generally been cooperative when officers have responded to calls and asked groups to disperse.

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To be clear: It’s not a crime to be near someone else or gather in large groups in Massachusetts. Social distancing here is a health recommendation from state and local leaders.

But other states have enacted strict rules and bulked up enforcement. Police have charged pastors for holding church services, broken up weddings and parties, and more, according to media reports. Lithuania’s capital city launched drones to patrol and prevent gatherings in public spaces.

In Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker have repeatedly urged residents to stay home, except in emergencies or to get groceries, medicine, and other essentials. They’ve encouraged going outside for exercise and mental well-being, but stressed that when residents leave their homes they should maintain proper distance from people they’re not living with.

Both leaders have so far resisted issuing orders that can actually be enforced. There are no fines or other penalties for being socially adjacent. That could change, officials have warned, particularly if there’s a lack of compliance.

“I know the mayor in New York is imposing a $500 fine if people don’t practice social distancing,” Walsh said Monday. “I hope we don’t have to do that.”

He also worried that the temptation to relax distancing discipline could be heightened with warmer weather.

In response to Walsh’s guidance, city workers have taken steps to curb recreational gatherings, including posting signs encouraging social distancing at parks and closing playground and tot lots. They’ve removed street hockey, soccer, and tennis court nets.

City workers zip-tied basketball nets, but some players persisted. The city then bolted pieces of plywood together to cover the rims, according to a parks spokesman.

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South Boston resident Taralynn Asack, 29, was propelled to document and point out violators on her social media accounts in part out of a sense of public service, in part out of boredom.

“I’ve taken it upon myself to be neighborhood watch,” said Asack, an on-air sports reporter for DraftKings. “I’ve been going a bit stir crazy without any news. So I’ve just been going around Boston exposing people.”

But Asack said her posts trend toward the positive and supportive and are designed to raise awareness.

“Who wants to be screamed at right now?” she said. “There’s too much uncertainty to be mean to each other. . . . We need all the kindness we can get.”

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @mrochele

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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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