Facebook Improves Trending Topics

Today Facebook introduced a couple of changes that make it easier to spot trending topics and the coverage around them. This is good news to me because I find Facebook’s newsfeed incredibly frustrating.

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The first change is that there’s a bit of a visual redesign. Previously, clicking on a trending topic would highlight a story from one publication, and you’d have to scroll down past a live video section to view related stories. Facebook is replacing that system with a simple carousel, which does a better job of showing you different coverage options.

To be clear, the change doesn’t affect how stories are sourced, according to Facebook. It’s still the same algorithm picking out some of the most popular stories about the topic. Facebook’s is simply making it easier to see other options, which is certainly an improvement.

Second, Facebook is now putting trends right in your News Feed on mobile devices. Previously, they would be hidden within search, which isn’t exactly intuitive. Instead, Facebook will now just display the top three trending topics on your News Feed, after which you can click through to see other trends. Thankfully, Facebook gives you the option to remove it if you’d rather avoid trends altogether.

The new trends carousel is rolling out to iOS today, and will arrive on Android and desktop soon. Meanwhile trends in your News Feed is just a small test on mobile devices for now, so not everyone will see it, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see it roll out widely in the future.

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Manchester Terror Highlights the Power of Social Media

Tragedy almost always brings out the best in people. Social media services often get bad press and perhaps this criticism is deserved sometimes. However as we found out during last evening’s tragic act of terror in Manchester social media often steps up and provides help to those caught in terrible events.

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Last night, shortly after the terror attack in Manchester Facebook began helping people connect to those who were impacted by the tragic events at Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena.

Hours after the incident unfolded, the Greater Manchester Police confirmed that there were 19 fatalities (this number rose to 22) and as many as 50 people injured in an explosion just as Grande wrapped up her set at the 21,000-seat sports and music venue.

Police and emergency services quickly began working at the scene to evacuate those trying to flee the arena and others who’d been injured in the blast.

Police at Manchester Arena

To help those impacted by Monday’s explosion get in touch with their loved ones, Facebook quickly initiated its Safety Feature for anyone in the Manchester area. I have reported on this a couple of times in the past and you can read the earlier articles here.

All you need to do is click this link, and then tick the box for Safe if you are indeed safe. The Safety Check also lets you connect with friends or loved ones who were also in the area.

The service has been used by Facebook in the aftermath of natural disasters, and incidents like the November 2015 terror attack inside Paris’ Bataclan concert hall.

Tragic events bring out the best in most people and as you can see the same is true for social media services like Facebook.

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Facebook Battles Spam Filled Links

Did you ever click on what you thought was an “interesting link” on Facebook, only to find it takes you to a waste of time ad-filled spam website? Its a terrible sad situation. Facebook says they have a cure for this.

This is good news for all of us if it works. Facebook reports it’s leveraging AI (artificial intelligence) to bury those types of links on the News Feed.

Facebook has been punishing spam filled websites that advertise on the platform since last year, but now they are apparently doubling down on the punishment, as well as down-ranking spam-filled posts on the News Feed.

Facebook says it’s used AI to analyze “hundreds of thousands” of links to identify low-quality pages with “a large number of disruptive, shocking or malicious ads.” Basically, pages that look like this:

If a post links to such a page, it will show up lower on the News Feed, and may not be eligible for ads. It’s a small change, but anything to show less spam on Facebook is a worthwhile move.

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Facebook’s New Reactions

Facebook has now brought reactions to comments.

New reactions have started to show up in comments for desktop users. It works the same as reacting to a News Feed post: just hover over the Like button in a comment, and choose from any of the six options. That should save you some time if someone wrote a funny comment and you can’t be bothered to type out “haha.” The feature doesn’t appear to be live on mobile yet, but I imagine it won’t be long.

Facebook brought reactions to Messenger a little over a month ago, so with today’s update, Facebook now lets you react to almost anything. The only thing that’s missing is the ability to react to reactions themselves, and then you’ll never have to type again.

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The War Against Fake News Continues

The battle against “fake news” continues, at least on social media.

Facebook reported earlier this week that it has targeted 30,000 fake accounts linked to France ahead of the country’s presidential election, as part of a worldwide effort against misinformation.

Facebook went on to state that it’s trying to “reduce the spread of material generated through inauthentic activity, including spam, misinformation, or other deceptive content that is often shared by creators of fake accounts.”

Facebook had previously ramped up its efforts against the spread of false news and misinformation on its service in December, a month after the U.S. presidential election. The company said at the time that it will focus on the “worst of the worst” offenders and partner with outside fact-checkers and news organizations to sort honest news reports from made-up stories.

This action is partially a result of Facebook being accused of allowing the spread of false news in the months leading up to the U.S. election, which may have helped change the results of the election.

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Last week, Facebook launched a resource (above image) to help users spot false news in 14 countries including the U.S., France and Germany. It’s a notification, available for a few days, that leads users to a list of tips for spotting false news and ways to report it.

Facebook’s other efforts include participating with other companies and tech industry leaders to establish a “news integrity” nonprofit organization to promote news literacy and increase the public’s trust in journalism.

I do expect that this fake news problem, which is now a world wide phenomenon will eventually be dealt with. However, how that will look, or how effective our efforts will be is unknown.

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Social Media Begins Responding to Fake News

Fake news is anything but fake, it is a very real problem. Both Facebook & YouTube which have been outlets for creators of fake news are starting to respond to this threat. In fact one of the biggest ways in which Russia interfered with the presidential election of 2016 was through the publishing of fake news stories which even included entire Facebook pages.

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Facebook’s Fake News Response

Facebook is launching a resource to help you spot false news and misleading information that spreads on its service.

The resource, similar to previous efforts around privacy and security, is basically a notification that pops up for a few days. Clicking on it takes you to tips and other information on how to spot false news and what to do about it.

Tips to spot false news include looking closely at website addresses to see if they are trying to spoof real news sites, and checking websites’ “about” sections for more information. Some sites might look like real news at first glance, but their “about” sections inform the visitor that they are in fact satire.

The new feature is part of a broader plan by Facebook to clamp down false news stories, which gained outsized attention in the months leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

False news, of course, was around long before the election. But supermarket tabloids peddling stories about aliens and celebrity miracles are less insidious than, say, “Pizzagate,” a false internet rumor that led a gunman to fire an assault weapon inside a Washington pizzeria in December.

This new resource should be launching soon. Watch for it.

YouTube’s Fake News Response

Youtube announced this past Thursday that is it is cracking down on fake news channels by no longer placing advertising on them until they’ve reached 10,000 overall views.

YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc., also the parent company of Google, announced changes after several big companies pulled their advertising from the company because their ads were appearing with objectionable content.

The online video service said the changes are designed to make sure channels are legitimate and not stealing content.

In the past, the open-ended policy allowed amateur video creators to earn money and some work became viral and earned a considerable amount.

Several advertisers, including Walmart, General Motors, JPMorgan Chase, Pepsico, Starbucks and Johnson & Johnson, pulled out of YouTube after their ads appeared in extremist hate-speech videos.

YouTube, due to it’s reliance on advertisers and their growing reluctance to appear on fake news & hate filled stories is spearheading this response.

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Facebook Stories Arrives But What Is It?

Facebook Stories is rolling out to everyone on Facebook. Along with it comes a filter-tastic new in-app camera, as well as a direct messaging feature.

The update started rolling out this morning on iOS and Android and it brings with it three parts: a redesigned in-app camera, a new feed of ephemeral stories at the top of the News Feed, and a private messaging feature called Direct. Taken together, the features represent the biggest changes to Facebook’s core product in several years.

Just like Snapchat, Facebook Stories consist of photos and images that disappear 24 hours after they are posted. You can decorate your posts with text, drawings, stickers, and Snapchat-like animated filters. While the basic suite of creative tools is the same across Facebook’s products, the flagship app’s stories have a few twists of their own. It’s the first Facebook app to get animated face filters.

Facebook Stories works exactly like on Instagram; Stories live above your News Feed for 24 hours, and can include both videos and images with a variety of filter effects. There’s even now a dedicated camera button on the top left of the app to serve as a constant reminder to post some goofy filtered-up photo.

But to Facebook, the filters are more than just trivial additions. People are sharing more visual content than ever, and these effects are a way to augment and provide context for the moments being shared on screen.

Facebook apparently is so smitten with filters that the company has a small team of artists creating the filters, and works to adapt the filters for each region so that they are relevant to everyone using them. It’s also partnering with various brands for themed filters, including Power Rangers, Minions, and Wonder Woman masks, and intends to introduce “new ways for the Facebook community to create their own frames and effects” in the coming months.

One area Facebook is a bit different from other apps is that you have the option to share Stories directly onto your Timeline and News Feed as well, giving them a bit more visibility by placing them among standard posts. You can also now share 24-hour media with only a few specific people via a ‘Direct’ feature.

Stories is clearly a big push for the Facebook, and the fact that they live above your News Feed is remarkable, considering the latter has always been your main way of experiencing media on the social network.



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Facebook – New Video Features Coming

Facebook is announcing a series of major updates to video on the social network today. Some good – some bad.

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Facebook Updates – The Good

And I mean annoyingly bad. Facebook will now begin to autoplay sound on videos, so prepare for a cacophony of noises as you simply try to catch up with your friends’ lives. This is such a terrible idea that I believe within two months Facebook will be forced to rethink this (and turn autoplay off).

In an attempt to not be so annoying Facebook Audio will fade in and out as you scroll past the videos on your feed, so at least you shouldn’t be caught off guard with the jarring screams of some prank video your friend shared. Sound will also not play if your phone is in silent mode.

Also users will be able to disable the feature by turning off “Videos in News Feed Start With Sound” in your app Settings. Facebook will also be providing “in-product messages to tell people about the new sound on experience and controls.” However as we know many users will simply be annoyed by this not knowing that they can actually turn audio in videos off.

Facebook Updates – The Good

The other changes are less controversial. Vertical video will now take up a much larger portion of your display on Android and iOS devices.

You’ll also now be able to activate a picture-in-picture mode to minimize a video window and continue scrolling through your News Feed while keeping an eye on whatever recipe video caught your attention.

The videos are much like Facebook’s chat heads – you can toss them around onto any corner of the app. It’s even better if you’re an Android user: you can keep on watching video even after you exit the Facebook app. Google’s own YouTube app doesn’t even let you do that.

Lastly, Facebook announced it will soon introduce a video app for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Samsung Smart TV. Other platforms are to follow.

The app allows you watch videos shared by your friends or pages you follow, as well some of the most popular live videos from around the world and other content tailored to your interests. You can also watch all those videos you’ve saved to watch for later, or revisit the videos you’ve already watched or shared.

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Finding Shelter with Facebook

Facebook is leveraging its power as the world’s biggest social network to help people find food, shelter and transportation during or after major emergency.

Called Community Help, the feature becomes available after a Safety Check is activated. Once that happens, you can tap on the “Go to Safety Check” banner that appears atop your screen, and then select either ‘Find Help’ or “Give Help.’

From there, you can select the type of help you need from categories like food, transportation, water, shelter, baby supplies, pet supplies and more. You’ll then see a list of people offering that kind of aid, as well as their rough location, and can initiate a direct message conversation to get the help you need.

Facebook reports that Community Help was inspired by people already trying to provide aid during a crisis. The new feature simply makes it easier for helpers and victims to communicate with each other.

Safety Check has been under scrutiny at times due to both false alarms and times it should have activated but was not. Community Help will likely fall under similar scrutiny should someone try to abuse the system.

Nonetheless, Facebook has been working to expand access to Safety check to a greater number of communities, and Community Help is a legitimate step forward towards making it a lot more useful during an emergency.

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Facebook Photos Get Smarter

Facebook probably already knows who your friends are, where you work, who you are in a relationship with and even what your phone number. And now Facebook knows not just what objects are in the photos your post & what is happening in them.

Facebook has recently updated its search feature so you can search for photos based on simple descriptions, like “pizza” or “cat” regardless if they’ve been tagged with these words. Because this feature is new it is still a bit unpredictable, but seems to do a fairly good job of the basics, like differentiating between obvious objects, attractions, and scenes.

How Is Facebook Accomplishing This?

Lumos is [Facebook’s] artificially intelligent program that allows the computer to “see” what’s inside the image you just shared. It appears Lumos is getting an upgrade with the ability to recognize actions. The network’s automatic alt text, used for describing a photo to the visually impaired, will now recognize 12 different actions, from walking and dancing to actions that can be described by a verb with a noun, like riding a horse or playing an instrument.

Privacy Concerns?

There are privacy considerations with this type of new A.I. (artificial intelligence). Being able to search photos for specific clothing or religious place of worship could make it easy to target Facebook users based on religious belief. Photo search also extends Facebook’s knowledge of users to what they actually do in real life. That could allow for far more specific targeting for advertisers.

As with everything on Facebook, features have their cost…. your data.

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