Fake News, YouTube & Aliens Collide

NASA is making great strides at learning and explaining the complexities of not just the planets in our celestial backyard, but also the makeup of our galaxy and the universe as a whole. It seems that new planets, some that can even sustain life are being discovered regularly. This is where science ends and the problem with fake news and how it can be distributed via social media begins.

About a week ago, a video surfaced on YouTube claiming that NASA was about to reveal the first hard evidence of alien life, and what happened next is probably going to make your shake your head in disbelief at the wonder of fake news and how many people continue to fall for it.

The You Tube video, which was uploaded by someone calling himself “Anonymous Global,” is just a collection of old stock footage and an (of course) obscured voice claiming that NASA has found alien life and was going to announce it soon. There is nothing here but a bunch of nonsense. In fact, the person in the video reading the paper doesn’t even appear to be speaking the words heard in the clip, and it’s likely just a looped clip of a previous video being reused for the umpteenth time.

Because this is the internet, this means someone is going to share it, others are going to watch it, and some people are going to believe it. What is amazing is that the entire thing began to snowball, hitting sites like Daily Mail and eventually even Newsweek, crediting “Anonymous” with having evidence that NASA is poised to reveal the discovery of aliens, with absolutely nothing in the realm of reality to back it up.

Setting aside the obvious issues with various news outlets referring to Anonymous as a “group” — when in reality the entire concept of Anonymous is that there is no structure or members in the traditional sense. The video is very clearly nothing more than an attempt to generate some ad revenue. Ads play in the middle of the video as well as the beginning, which is hilarious, and since the video has now gained over one million clicks, it’s probably making a decent chunk of change.

This is a clear example of the travesty of fake news. People often believe anything – even when they know better.

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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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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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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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Facebook’s Battle Against Fake News

Facebook is updating its “trending” feature that highlights hot topics on its social networking site, part of its effort to root out the kind of fake news stories that critics contend helped Donald Trump become president.

With the changes announced Wednesday, Facebook’s trending list will consist of topics being covered by several publishers. Before, it focused on subjects drawing the biggest crowds of people sharing or commenting on posts.

I believe it is this “focusing on the biggest crowds” that was Facebook’s error which resulted in so much fake news on people’s newsfeeds.

The switch is intended to make Facebook a more credible source of information by steering hordes of its 1.8 billion users toward topics that “reflect real world events being covered by multiple outlets,” Will Cathcart, the company’s vice president of product management, said in a blog post.

Facebook also will also stop customizing trending lists to cater to each user’s personal interests. Instead, everyone located in the same region will see the same trending lists, which currently appear in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and India.

This change in particular could widen the scope of information Facebook’s users see, instead of just topics that reinforce what they may have already heard or read elsewhere. The broader perspective might reduce the chances of Facebook’s users living in a “filter bubble” — only engaging with people and ideas with which they agree.

Questions about Facebook’s influence on what people are reading intensified last summer after a technology blog relying on an anonymous source reported that human editors routinely suppressed conservative viewpoints on the site.

Facebook fired the small group of journalists overseeing its trending items and replaced them with an algorithm that was supposed to be a more neutral judge about what to put on the list.

But the automated approach began to pick out posts that were getting the most attention, even if the information in them was bogus. Some of the fake news stories targeted Democratic presidential nominee Hilary Clinton, prompting critics to believe the falsehoods help Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially brushed off that notion as “crazy ,” but in December the company announced a slew of new measures to curb the spread of fake news.

To discourage the creation of fake news in the first place, Facebook also is banishing perpetual publishers of false information from its lucrative ad network.

Google, which operates an even larger digital ad network, has taken a similar stand against publishers of fake news.

My Take on Fake News

What are of this tells us is that social media and fake news is a very real problem and often results in people living in bubbles that they are comfortable with. This is very ironic considering that we have access to more information then ever before in human history. However people tend to only listen to what makes them comfortable and choose outlets that they agree with. This first happened with cable news channels (Fox News), now it is occurring on social media.

This is dangerous and suffocating to individual growth.

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