Using drones to disrupt the status quo

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Drone-based digital imagery can be used to better estimate the size of large crowds.

From Standing Rock to Syria, drones are being used to hold the powerful to account. Let’s keep it that way.

The civil rights movement and Moore’s law are colliding to transform politics. On the street, smartphone technology is being used to document social life as never before, putting power into the hands of the public and making eyewitnesses of us all.

This same technology, bolted onto cheap and easy-to-fly drones, is also providing a birds-eye view of politics on the ground. Indeed, a recent explosion in the availability and affordability of drones has driven an uptick in their use in support of social movements. In the years since the first use of a drone to document a protest — a 2011 event organized against Russian president Vladimir Putin — they have been a consistent presence at protests in societies where democracy is under threat.

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Facebook enter commerce with ‘shops’ to bring millions of small businesses online

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Facebook is bringing 160 million small businesses online to help them survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Shops starts rolling out today.

In a significant push for ecommerce and social commerce, Facebook is launching Shops to bring online millions of small businesses that have been struggling due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Shops, which enables businesses to set up free stores and live shopping tabs on Facebook and Instagram, is the tech giant’s attempt to restart the global economy by enabling commerce. “If you can’t physically open your store or restaurant, you can still take orders online and ship them to people,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in a live stream.

“We’re seeing a lot of small businesses that never had online businesses get online for the first time,” he added.

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The internet is getting less free

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A protester holds an Amazon box made into a sad face as part of a protest against the company’s cloud services contracts with Palantir, which supports ICE.

Election interference and government surveillance on social media are hurting internet freedoms.

 

Amazon has been under fire from protesters lately for assisting surveillance technology company Palantir — and, by extension, ICE — as well as for its own surveillance products like Ring.

Free speech and privacy on the internet declined globally for the ninth consecutive year according to the Freedom on the Net 2019 report by bipartisan watchdog and think tank Freedom House.

 

The report’s authors cite two main reasons for the decline: increased online election interference — by government and civilian actors alike — and increased government surveillance, both of which are spreading on social media platforms. These are topics that continue to dominate the news cycle, whether it’s Facebook’s ad policy that allows politicians to spread lies or Amazon’s growing relationships with police departments that use its Ring smart doorbells and associated social media products to surveil communities. Freedom House recommends increased transparency and oversight of these platforms in order to stop the situation from getting worse.

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Dunbar’s number: Why we can only maintain 150 relationships

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The theory of Dunbar’s number holds that we can only really maintain about 150 connections at once. But is the rule true in today’s world of social media?

If you’ve ever been romantically rejected by someone who just wanted to be friends, you may have delivered a version of this line: “I’ve got enough friends already.” Your implication, of course, being that people only have enough emotional bandwidth for a certain number of buddies.

It turns out that’s not just an excuse. There are well-defined limits to the number of friends and acquaintances the average person can retain. But the question about whether these limits are the same in today’s digital world – one in which it’s common to have social media profiles, or online forums, with thousands of followers – is more complicated.

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Human actors are changing the spread of disinformation

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Disinformation campaigns used to consist of trolls and bots orchestrated and manipulated to produce a desired result. Increasingly, though, these campaigns are able to find willing human participants to amplify their messages and even generate new ones on their own.

The big picture: It’s as if they’re switching from employees to volunteers — and from participants who are in on the game to those who actually believe the disinformational payload they’re delivering.

Why it matters: Understanding this changing nature is critical to preparing for the next generation of information threats, including those facing the 2020 presidential campaign.

Speaking at Stanford University Tuesday, researcher Kate Starbird — a University of Washington professor who runs a lab that studies mass participation — traced the change across the stories of three different campaigns.

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Facebook’s Calibra is a secret weapon for monetizing its new cryptocurrency

 

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The newly formed subsidiary will build Facebook’s digital wallet

Facebook’s announcement this morning of a new cryptocurrency, Libra, and the nonprofit association that will oversee it raises questions about the future of global banking and Facebook’s role in it. But behind Facebook’s ambitions to create a quasi-nation state ruled by mostly corporate interests is a secret weapon, one the company hopes it can use to create another platform used by billions of people — and generate enormous new revenue streams along the way.

It’s called Calibra, and it’s a new subsidiary of Facebook the company is launching to build financial services and software on top of the Libra blockchain. At first blush, Calibra resembles a fairly standard payments company — but its tight integration with Facebook’s enormous user base could give it a significant advantage over any rivals. Thanks to its proximity to the technical development of Libra, and its ability to leverage WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram, Calibra could very well become Facebook’s next big thing.

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Adobe’s prototype AI tool automatically spots Photoshopped faces

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An example of a manipulated photo, the defects spotted by the algorithm, and the original image. Credit: Adobe

 

Though it’s just a research project for the moment.

The world is becoming increasingly anxious about the spread of fake videos and pictures, and Adobe — a name synonymous with edited imagery — says it shares those concerns. Today, it’s sharing new research in collaboration with scientists from UC Berkeley that uses machine learning to automatically detect when images of faces have been manipulated.

It’s the latest sign the company is committing more resources to this problem. Last year its engineers created an AI tool that detects edited media created by splicing, cloning, and removing objects.

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Influencers are flocking to a surprising new kind of social media

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Influencers are flocking to a surprising new kind of social media

350+ influencers with a collective audience of 3.5 billion people are flocking to a platform called Escapex, which gives them their own apps. It’s part of the next wave of social media focused on smaller, more private groups.

Last week, actor Jeremy Renner posted a time-lapse video of himself trying on different outfits in front of the mirror. “Suiting up for the Avengers press tour,” he wrote. “What are you wearing?” More than 2,000 people commented on the post (some offered outfit tips, but many agreed he looked better without a shirt). Others said good luck, or jovially wished everyone a happy Friday.

None of this was happening on Instagram, but on Renner’s own app, where his most die-hard fans gather to gush about their favorite actor. They do more than just comment on Renner’s photos, videos, and give-away contests. They also post their own images in a “fan feed”–a quick scroll reveals a woman’s before-and-after haircut, a call for recommendations for a trip to L.A., and a shot of tomato soup and parmesan-crusted chicken with bacon, which a fan had made from another fan’s cookbook.

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The automatic weapons of social media

 

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It’s time for the platforms to admit their response is flawed, and work together to protect our civil discourse.

This is not an easy essay to write, because I have believed that technology companies are a force for good for more than 30 years. And for the past ten years, I’ve been an unabashed optimist when it comes to the impact of social platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and even Facebook. I want to believe they create more good than bad in our world. But recently I’ve lost that faith.

What’s changed my mind is the recalcitrant posture of these companies in the face of overwhelming evidence that their platforms are being intentionally manipulated to undermine our democracy. This is an existential crisis, both for civil society and for the health of the businesses being manipulated. But to date the response from the platforms is the equivalent of politicians’ “hopes and prayers” after a school shooting: Soothing murmurs, evasion of truly hard conversations, and a refusal to acknowledge the core problem: Their automated business models.

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More than a game, Fortnite is emerging as the best new social network

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The wild popularity of the shooter game is a reminder that socializing is way more fun when you’re actually doing something with your friends.

It has more than 200 million users, up to 8 million of whom are online at any one time. Most spend six to 10 hours a week on the platform. And half of teens say they use it to keep up with friends.

Snapchat? Instagram? Twitch?

Nope. Fortnite. The wildly popular online video game has quietly become one of the planet’s biggest social networks. Not in a traditional sense, of course. Fortnite Battle Royale is, first and foremost, a last-man-standing, shooter-style game, especially popular among teens and twentysomethings. (Disclaimer here: I’m not a hardcore Fortnite player, though I know plenty of people who are.) In the game, 100 players at a time jump out of a flying bus and onto an island. Combatants are left to duke it out, Hunger Games-style, with a variety of weapons, armor, “healables,” and other tools at their disposal. Though the premise is violent, the game itself really isn’t, with none of the gore or blood of more graphic offerings. Eventually, the final combatant claims the coveted “Victory Royale.” All told, each match lasts around 20 minutes.

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Today’s influencer economy can be explained by a 19th century economic theory

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At the end of the 19th century, American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen said that people take their cues about what to consume from the social class immediately above their own. They want things just beyond their reach.

A new paper in the journal Communication, Culture and Critique shows how this theory explains some dynamics of the influencer economy and the rules that govern Instagram. In it, researchers Emily Hund and Lee McGuigan at the University of Pennsylvania investigate the mechanics of “a shoppable life.” The term describes the contemporary phenomenon of influencers marketing their lifestyles, then selling aspects of it, like the beauty products they use or elements of their home’s decor, through nearly seamless technological infrastructure, and the finding that more and more commercial opportunities rise with the way people present themselves and interact with each other.

One influencer told the researchers that a favorite part of her job is getting freebies, like a new set of furniture, from brands that want to be promoted in her channels. “They’re things that I love and never could have afforded on my own, and it’s going to bring a lot of value to the blog, so I’m excited about those just for that reason.”

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A photographer asked teenagers to edit their photos until they thought they looked ‘social media ready,’ and the results are shocking

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“Selfie Harm” by Rankin shows how quick and easy it is to transform your appearance for social media. Rankin

  • A new photo series shows the lengths some people go to to edit their photos for Instagram.
  • The project, by renowned photographer Rankin, asked 15 British teenagers to take five minutes editing their appearances to make them “social media-ready.”
  • Most of them made their noses narrower, slimmed their faces, edited out their freckles, enlarged their eyes and lips, and added makeup.
  • Rankin says the project highlights that “we are living in a world of FOMO, sadness, increased anxiety, and Snapchat dysmorphia.”

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