Tech News

Twitter is auditing itself for toxicity

July 30, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


Whether it’s the veil of anonymity, the controversial nature of political discourse, or both — conversations on social media can quickly turn into emotionally charged quarrels. To combat these ongoing issues, Twitter has cracked down on fake accounts, added extra verification steps for new users, and acquired Smyte — a software company that’s dedicated to preventing spam and abuse. Now the social networking site is turning to university experts to promote healthier dialog.

Leiden University’s Dr. Rebekah Tromble will head a team of researchers to investigate the formation of echo chambers and underlying causes of uncivil discourse. The joint project will look to measure how communities take shape around political discussions, and observe any problems that manifest. To do this, the researchers will gauge how frequently Twitter users engage with diverse viewpoints, and develop algorithms that determine whether a conversation is ‘uncivil’ — one that breaks politeness norms — or ‘intolerant’, responses that fall more in line with hate speech, racism, or xenophobia:

“In the context of growing political polarization, the spread of misinformation, and increases in incivility and intolerance, it is clear that if we are going to effectively evaluate and address some of the most difficult challenges arising on social media, academic researchers and tech companies will need to work together much more closely,” Dr. Tromble said.

In the past, Leiden studies have indicated that the similarity of opinions in echo chambers tends to foster hostility and resentment towards people with opposing perspectives.

Oxford University researchers are also joining Twitter’s initiative to cultivate a healthier, less discriminatory online space. Social psychology professor Miles Hewstone says communicating with individuals from different backgrounds is a proven method for reducing prejudice, and his team is interested in determining whether the positivity of an interaction online is transferred when a user logs off.

In an age where the boundaries between online and real-world identities have become increasingly blurred, and words can be used as weapons, such initiatives may prove useful for Twitter. After all, the rush of happiness we experience after a pleasant online conversation with a stranger is very much real.

Tech News

LinkedIn adds the voice messaging feature you weren’t missing

July 27, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


Robert Galbraith / Reuters

Today, LinkedIn announced that it is adding voice messaging to its social network. Considering the constant email requests that LinkedIn is famous for, and the fact that most people hate voicemail, we can categorize this under features absolutely no one asked for.

But LinkedIn does have its own reasons for adding voice messaging. First, it’s easier to send a voice message while you’re away from a computer than it is to type it out. Second, your recipient can wait until they are free to listen to it, rather than quickly scanning an email and forgetting about it. (Of course, this means that the bulk of voice messages will likely never be listened to. Because truly, who needs another voicemail inbox?) And finally, “Speaking in your own voice allows you to build a more personal connection and effectively communicate,” LinkedIn said in a blog post. Okay, then.

Judging from how often many of us use visual voicemail features so we don’t actually have to listen to messages, it’s pretty baffling as to why LinkedIn would think this was a good idea. Voice messages can also feel more intrusive than email, which is an important consideration on a professional social network.

However, if you’re super into this idea, the feature is in the process of rolling out to iOS and Android devices. It will be available around the world over the next couple of weeks. Your messages can be up to one minute long.

Tech News

Why are Trump and sex workers angry about shadow banning?

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

On Thursday morning, United States President Donald Trump tweeted about how Twitter was “shadow banning” prominent republicans, presumably after reading reports that it wasn’t auto-suggesting the names of members of his party when people searched for them on its app. “Not good,” Trump said. “We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.” But, while some people may appreciate what Twitter is doing, the company says this wasn’t done on purpose — it was simply a side effect of a change it made back in May aimed at cleaning up the platform.

The issue, which Twitter says it’s fixing, was simple: If you searched for, say, GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, simply typing the first few letters of her name wouldn’t bring up her account. But the same couldn’t be said for Democrats. Twitter’s Product Lead, Kayvon Beykpour, explained that the behavioral ranking that caused this “doesn’t make judgements based on political views or the substance of tweets.” He said the problem was that Twitter’s “usage of the behavior signals within search” made results seem inaccurate, and as a result users could only find accounts like McDaniel’s if they searched for her full name

Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018

This isn’t the first time Twitter has dealt with this type of issue. Last November, the company faced backlash after it was accused of blocking search results for content relevant to the LGBT community. Regardless of what a user’s filtering settings were, searching for terms like such as #bisexual or #gay wouldn’t bring up any content. Much like today, Twitter eventually issued a fix (and an apology), saying it had identified an error with search results for certain terms.

Additionally, Twitter has also been accused of shadow banning sex workers and users in the adult-entertainment industry. But the issue here is more complex, since it relates to Twitter’s safety settings: They’re set to hide sensitive content by default, unless a user manually checks it off. So, if someone’s account gets labeled as sensitive, which would be the case for a user posting adult pictures, that filter would prevent their profile and their tweets from showing up in search results. For some sex workers, the main problem seems to be that this practice restricts any of their content, even if it isn’t sexual, from being surfaced beyond people they follow (or are followed by) on the site. Twitter has denied any wrongdoing, but this shows that these accusations of shadow banning aren’t limited to conservative politicians.

On 2) Some accounts weren’t being auto-suggested even when people were searching for their specific name. Our usage of the behavior signals within search was causing this to happen & making search results seem inaccurate. We’re making a change today that will improve this.

— Kayvon Beykpour

Tech News

Facebook lost one million monthly active users to GDPR

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Christian Hartmann / Reuters

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation had a tangible impact on Facebook’s user base — if only just. While discussing its second quarter earnings, the social network revealed that it lost about 1 million monthly active users in Europe due to the implementation of GDPR. That’s a drop in the bucket next to Facebook’s 376 million European users and 2.2 billion total users, but such a decline is extremely rare for a company that has almost always seen growth, even if it has been slowing over time.

This definitely isn’t guaranteed to set a trend, and it might even be a modest dip given the lingering effects of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Facebook could easily be nervous about its significance, though — it suggests that Europeans are considerably more sensitive to internet privacy issues, and that the company might have to walk a fine line if it wants to keep growing its audience in the region.

Tech News

Despite scandals, Facebook is still raking in cash and users

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


It’s no secret that 2018 has been quite a rocky year for Facebook, after controversies over the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal and, most recently, its handling of fake news on the platform. But, despite these troubling issues, the company’s bottom line hasn’t been affected — it made $12 billion during the last quarter alone. And today, Facebook reported a total revenue of $13.23 billion in Q2 2018, a 42 percent year-over-year increase. Meanwhile, daily and monthly active user numbers are still growing, though they didn’t jump by much compared to Q1 2018. Monthly users are now at 2.23 billion, only up 1.54 percent from the last quarter.

While both daily and monthly active users did have an 11 percent year-over-year growth during Q2 2018, Facebook would likely prefer that 1.54 quarterly increase to be much higher — it was 3.14 percent in Q1 of this year. It’s unclear if this dip came as a result of the many scandals Facebook’s been dealing with, but it’s safe to say those aren’t helping its reputation among people all across the world.

Still, Facebook continues to make a ton of money every quarter, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the latest one wasn’t any different. Facebook attributes a big chunk of this to mobile, which it says represented 91 percent of its $13 billion advertising revenue and had an 87 percent increase compared to the second quarter of 2017. If you had any doubt mobile was the future for companies like Facebook, think again.

Embattled CEO Mark Zuckerberg hosting a conference call at 2PM PT/5PM ET to talk more about today’s results, and we’ll be updating with this post with any new information that may come from it.

Tech News

China pulls approval for Facebook startup incubator

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


So much for Facebook making inroads into China. Mere hours after regulators gave Facebook permission to open a startup incubator in the province of Zhejiang, the approval has disappeared — and a New York Times source claims officials have formally withdrawn that approval. Reportedly, the country’s Cyberspace Administration was “angry” that Zhejiang officials hadn’t consulted it in earnest before giving Facebook the go-ahead.

This doesn’t rule out another chance for Facebook, but it isn’t likely to get a second shot in the near future.

Facebook has declined to comment, and officials haven’t responded. However, this illustrates the challenges for foreign tech companies entering China, especially when their main businesses are censored in the country. Some officials may see the censorship as a red flag for any presence in China, while others may want to give the company a chance to run separate businesses. And that leads to inconsistency — China has long opposed Google, for instance, but let the American firm launch an AI research center and recently opened offices in Shenzhen.

Not that this is likely to stop Facebook from trying. It has used all kinds of efforts to get a stake in China, including a ‘secret’ mobile app and a former government relations leader brought on specifically to improve relations with China. The company knows the China market is huge and potentially lucrative, and it doesn’t want to be completely left out.

Tech News

Facebook's 'shared viewing' video feature is coming to all groups

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0


Facebook has made it clear that it wants to make video a crucial part of its business, as it looks to compete with the likes of YouTube, Amazon and Netflix. And, over the past few months, the company’s been making changes to help it get there, launching new features aimed at making videos more social. One of those is Watch Party, an experimental tool introduced in January that lets members of Facebook groups watch videos together and simultaneously. That shared watching experience, which works with both live and pre-recorded videos, was only available to select users when it was first announced, but now Facebook is bringing it to every group worldwide.

With more than 1.4 billion users per month, groups has become a core product for Facebook, and it intends to use Watch Party to keep even more people locked in and connected to those who share similar interests. Facebook says that it’s heard from group leaders that Watch Party is perfect for people watching things like Q&A sessions and how-to tutorials about cooking, crafting, home improvement, playing an instrument and more. Back in April, the company said that nearly two billion people had watched Facebook Live broadcasts to date, demonstrating the potential for features like Watch Party — especially since users who watch together can comment and add emoji reactions in real time.

Soon, those Watch Parties won’t just be limited to groups. Facebook also revealed that it is already testing the tool with profiles, while pages (public profiles for businesses and other organizations) could get it in the near future, as well. Facebook says that, in its internal testing, some Watch Parties were able to generate thousands of comment from people who were watching a particular video simultaneously, with some groups dedicating over 10 hours to a single Watch Party. The success of Twitch has already proven that there’s a dedicated audience looking to watch internet video with others, regardless of the genre.

For profiles, Watch Party could be a good way to have shared viewing experiences with close friends and family members. The same goes for pages of brands or news publications that want to show videos of, say, an unboxing of a product or host a conversation about a recent story. For Facebook, the goal here is simple: To keep users interacting with one another as much as possible.

Naturally, as Facebook continues to deal with controversies around the spread of toxic content on its site, Watch Party isn’t exempt from that. Erin Connolly, Facebook’s product manager of social video, to Engadget thatthe company will use all the tools at its disposal (including artificial intelligence) to ensure that Watch Parties are safe for everyone. She added that Facebook will also rely on group administrators and other users to report any content or interactions that may be harmful, just as it’s done for any video on Facebook Live. “Keeping the communication safe is something that’s

Tech News

'GTA Online' rewards you for watching Facebook livestreams

July 24, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Rockstar Games

You now have good reasons to watch GTA Online streams besides the thrill of the gameplay itself. Now that the After Hours expansion is available, Rockstar is using Facebook’s In-Stream Rewards to give you free GTAO currency when you watch certain broadcasts. So long as you have your Facebook account linked to your Rockstar Games Social Club account, you’ll have a chance at padding your virtual bank account just by tuning in.

The first official stream takes place on July 27th, when the developer and Facebook gaming “all-star friends” will mark the launch of After Hours. You can expect a series of broadcasts running through mid-August with certain Facebook streamers offering perks through their respective channels. You can expect more details on the schedule in the near future.

Yes, this represents a clear bid by Facebook to win the hearts and minds of gamers. Why watch a Twitch or Mixer stream when Facebook could score you a new in-game car? Still, it’s an acknowledgment that livestreams play a key role in modern gaming, and that embracing the online audience might just improve the experience for everyone.

Tech News

Twitter tightens requirements to get rid of 'low quality' apps

July 24, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Twitter’s efforts to fight spam are now focusing more on the apps generating that junk. As of today, every developer who wants to use Twitter’s app toolkit has to go through an account application process that verifies both use cases and a creator’s adherence to the social network’s policies. The process had been available since November, but it’ll be mandatory from now on — and Twitter is promising to enforce it within 90 days. Combined with a 10-app limit, Twitter is hoping this will cut down on spam-producing and “low-quality” apps.

Those developers that do pass muster will still face more oversight. Twitter is instituting lower default app-level rate limits on September 10th to prevent unscrupulous actors from creating spammy apps. They won’t get to tweet or retweet more than 300 times every three hours, like or follow more than 1,000 times each every day, or send more than 15,000 direct messages per day. This isn’t meant to kneecap third-party Twitter clients or other well-meaning uses, though. Any developer that honors Twitter’s policies can either maintain or increase their existing rates, and any app with a “valid need” for increased access will stick to the existing user-level limits on request. The company vows to notify developers who might be affected.

And yes, these changes include something actual users can do. Twitter is introduce an option to report apps they think are running afoul of the rules, whether it’s spam or collecting too much data. You can tackle the root of the problem rather than its symptoms, then.

There is a chance these new processes could create complications, whether it’s waiting longer to start publishing apps or running into trouble if they don’t get the thumbs-up for larger rate limits on crucial apps. Twitter might not have had much choice, though. It’s struggling to cut back on fake accounts (some of which may use apps to do their dirty work), and there’s always the lingering concern that a privacy-invading app might give Twitter the next Cambridge Analytica-style scandal. This could eliminate some of the more obvious abuses of power and make Twitter more bearable, especially for newcomers who might leave if they see a lot of garbage in their feeds.

As a developer platform, our first responsibility is our users: to provide a place that supports the health of conversation on Twitter.

To continue to prevent misuse of our platform, we are introducing a few new requirements for developers today.

— Twitter API (@TwitterAPI) July 24, 2018

Tech News

Congress' social media hearing was a ‘stupid’ sideshow

July 18, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Tuesday marked another chapter in the “Tech Companies go to Congress” story, with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. The hearing, titled “Examining the Content Filtering Practices of Social Media Giants,” was supposed to shed light on how these companies are keeping their sites safe for users by filtering out toxic content. But, instead, we learned very little. Executives from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube simply echoed what they’ve been saying in other congressional hearings since 2017. They talked about how they’re using a combination of artificial intelligence and human reviewers to fight fake news, bots and toxic content like hate speech.

Those are efforts we were already aware of, though we did find out out that Facebook, apparently, can’t decide when it should ban offensive pages like InfoWars. But the fact that the latest hearing was another wasted opportunity, just like Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress in April, isn’t completely Facebook, Twitter or YouTube’s fault.

Throughout yesterday’s session, US House Representatives from both sides of the aisle seemed to be more interested on their personal agenda. Republicans like Rep. Smith (TX) talked about how he felt conservatives were being censored, accusing Google of blocking his searches for “Jesus, Chick-fil-A and the Catholic religion.” Democrats, on the other hand, said the committee should be having hearings on Russian election interference and Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin instead. “This committee needs to proceed with hearings involving the question of the Russian intrusion and stealing of the 2016 election,” Rep. Lee (D-CA) said. “And I’ve come to a conclusion now that it was truly stolen. Dealing with these engines that have been effective for the United States on that issue seems to be a stretch and inappropriate.”

Rep. Lieu (D-CA) went as far as calling the hearing “dumb” and “stupid,” saying there were more important issues the House Judiciary Committee should be focusing on. “I served on active duty in the US military, I never thought I would see the American Commander-in-Chief deliver the talking points of the Kremlin. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” he said. “As we sit here today there [are] nearly three thousand babies and kids ripped away from their parents by the Trump administration, they have not been reunified yet. Are we having a hearing on that? No.” Instead, he added, “we’re having this ridiculous hearing on the content of speech of private sector companies. It’s stupid because there’s this thing called the First Amendment — we can’t regulate content. The only thing worse than an Alex Jones video is the government trying to tell Google not to do it, to prevent people from watching [it]. “

Meanwhile, Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) asked Facebook, Twitter and YouTube why the shouldn’t be regulated as non-utilities like hotels or clubs, which at a certain point have a legal liability for how consumers use their services. Goodlatte’s concern is that these social media giants