Facebook is more dangerous than ever. You can make it stop

Cambridge Analytica's chief executive officer Alexander Nix. His firm recently found itself in the spotlight for misrepresenting itself and harvesting data from millions of Facebook users to aid the Trump campaign / AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA
Image: AFP/Getty Images

Remember the Marlboro Man? He was a sexy vision of the American west, created by a cigarette corporation to sell a fatal product. People knew this and used that product anyway, at great detriment to themselves and those around them who quietly inhaled toxic secondhand smoke, day into long night.

An agreement between states and tobacco companies banished the rugged cowboy at the end of the 1990s, but the symbol is useful even 20 years later as we contend with a less deadly but no less frightening corporate force. Social networks that many of us signed up for in simpler times — a proverbial first smoke — have become gargantuan archives of our personal data. Now, that data is collected and leveraged by bad actors in an attempt to manipulate you and your friends. 

The time for ignorance is over. We need social responsibility to counterbalance a bad product. The public learned in alarming detail this weekend how a Trump-aligned firm called Cambridge Analytica managed to collect data on 50 million people using Facebook. All, as the Guardian put it, to “predict and influence choices at the ballot box.” Individuals who opted into Cambridge Analytica’s service — which was disguised as a personality quiz on Facebook — made their friends vulnerable to this manipulation, as well.

There were better days on the social network. When you signed up for Facebook, it’s likely because it was an alluring way for you to connect with old friends and share pictures. You hadn’t ever imagined “Russian trolls” or “fake news” or, lord knows, “Cambridge Analytica.” Chances are, you signed up before 2016, when Wired recently declared the social network had begun “two years of hell,” thanks in no small part to reporting efforts from current Mashable staffer Michael Nuñez

By then, the vast majority of Facebook’s 239 million monthly users in America had registered, had likely built an entire virtual life of friends and photos and status updates that were primed to be harvested by forces they couldn’t yet see or understand. Unlike those who continued smoking after the Marlboro Man arrived (two years after a seminal 1952 article in Reader’s Digest explained the dangers of cigarettes to the broad American public), these Facebook users lit up before they knew the cancer was coming.

Running with a health metaphor, Wired‘s “two years of hell” feature was promoted with a photo illustration by Jake Rowland that depicted a bloodied and bruised Mark Zuckerberg:

Image: photo illustration by jake rowland/esto. courtesy conde nast.

Zuckerberg may have been assaulted from all sides, but we — his users — took more of a licking than he did.

That’s because Facebook’s past two years have been all about ethical and technological crises that hurt users most of all. A favorite editor of mine hated that word, “users,” because it made it sound as though we were talking about something other than people. I can agree with that, but also see now that “users” is the word of moment: Facebook’s problems extend forever out of the idea that we are all different clumps of data generation. Human life is incidental.

Facebook’s problems extend forever out of the idea that we are all different clumps of data generation

The photos you post are interpreted by Facebook’s programs to automatically recognize your face; the interests you communicate via text are collated and cross-examined by algorithms to serve you advertising. Our virtual social connections enrich this marketing web and make advertisers more powerful.

And many of us open the app to scroll without really knowing why. Facebook literally presents us with a “feed.” We are users the way drug addicts are users, and we’re used like a focus group is used to vet shades of red in a new can of Coca-Cola.

None of this has been secret for some time. Braver, more fed up, or perhaps more responsible users have deactivated their Facebook accounts before. But any change they made was on the basis of their experience as individuals. New revelations demand we think more in terms of our online societies.

I have exactly 1,000 Facebook friends, and about 10 actual, best friends I see on a regular basis. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to care much about those other 990 Facebook friends until revelations from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. We have to admit now that the choices we make on Facebook can directly impact others.

The social network’s policies have changed since Cambridge Analytica’s 2016 operation. But Facebook’s business model — gather data on people and profit from that data — hasn’t. We cannot expect it to. But a reasonable person would anticipate it’s only a matter of time until the next major ethical breach is revealed to the public.

We know from bad faith campaigns surrounding Brexit and the 2016 U.S. election that individual users are extremely susceptible to viral disinformation. But until now, it was less clear how Facebook’s own tools could be used by third parties to manipulate an entire network of friends in an attempt to manipulate voter behavior.

Your irresponsibility on Facebook can impact a lot of people. A link you share can catch on and influence minds even if it’s totally falsified; more to this immediate concern, a stupid quiz you take could have opened your friends’ information up in a way they’d never have expected.

You could throw the pack away and deactivate your Facebook account altogether. It will get harder the longer you wait — the more photos you post there, or apps you connect to it.

Or you could be judicious about what you post and share, and what apps you allow access to your account. There are easy ways to review this.

But just remember: There’s no precedent for a social network of this size. We can’t guess what catastrophe it sets off next. Will a policy change someday mean it’s open season on your data, even if that data has limited protections in the here and now? 

Be smart: It’s not just you, or me, out there alone.

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/03/19/protect-yourself-and-your-friends-from-facebook/

Imagine Facebook and Instagram without the Like button

Off with their thumbs!
Image: bob al-greene/mashable

The Like button must die. 

More than any other feature, the thumbs-up on Facebook — along with its cousins, the Instagram and Twitter hearts — encapsulate everything that’s wrong with social media. It’s time to start visualizing a world where it doesn’t exist.

The Like has become the currency of carelessness — a way to show we approve without being deeply invested. In many cases, it covers for a lack of attention. It helps fake news propagate, discourages meaningful conversations, encourages shallowness, and exacerbates the most psychologically damaging effects of social media. 

If social media addiction is the disease of our age, it’s difficult to think of a feature that feeds that addiction more than the thumbs up. Pressing it repeatedly, like a rat in an experiment, we feed our innate need to be noticed. 

The question of how many Likes we’ve received keeps us coming back to our feeds over and over again to see who has acknowledged us in this most basic way. 

That has trained us to be passive, lazy friends who substitute Likes for real conversation. 

And who can blame us? It’s just too easy. Instead of asking how people are or what’s new in their lives, we can just double tap on their latest Instagram selfie and convince ourselves that it’s the same as actually keeping up with a friend.

More disturbing are the potential longterm effects of all this empty Liking. Putting aside the physical consequences of ingesting laundry detergent in the name of Likes — to take an extreme example — research suggests that liking is detrimental to mental health.

Even Facebook admits this. The company’s executives have cited research that suggests passively using Facebook leads to worse mental health. One study found that liking more posts was tied to worse mental and physical health and “decreased life satisfaction.”

This is pretty much why Facebook’s 2018 News Feed revamp is placing less emphasis on posts that get a lot of Likes and more on those that spark conversation in the comments. 

That’s a start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. The entire feature should be eliminated from every public-facing part of the service.

I’m aware that Facebook isn’t any more likely to get rid of the like than it is to kill News Feed. The company, after all, runs on Likes. The button is one of the most telling signals the company has in determining what its 2 billions users, well, like. 

Figuring out the details of what each Facebook user likes and dislikes is literally what fuels Facebook’s multi-billion dollar advertising business. Taking away that signal would have unknown implications on Facebook’s business.

But Facebook should, for once, put its users before its business and do it anyway. Perhaps a world where we can only comment, rather than mindlessly mash the button or choose an emoji, would be better for all of us.

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/02/06/facebook-should-kill-the-like/

Facebook is overhauling its News Feed so users feel better again

Facebook is re-tweaking its News Feed again. 

This time it wants to bring it back to friends and family instead of viral videos and media posts, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in a post Thursday. 

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” he wrote.

He said the change should make everyone feel better: “The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health.”

With fewer posts from businesses, brands, and media, expect to see more of what your “friends” are sharing and liking. 

Zuckerberg didn’t mention Facebook’s role in the 2016 election or Russian meddling through the platform as motivation to change what shows up on the social network.

A breakdown of the “closer together” initiative (also outlined in a video above) indicates news stories will get de-prioritized, while conversations that Facebook thinks will spark a lot of engagement will get a boost. 

To achieve a happier Facebook user base, it looks like Facebook will focus on comment-heavy posts — and not just quick comments like, “Oh no!” or “Thanks!” but lengthy (meaningful!) comments.

All those “likes” won’t mean as much as full-on engagement, which under the new rules seems to mean back-and-forth conversations. Sounds like posting links back and forth won’t count as much in the meaningfulness meter.

In other words, publishers will almost certainly see traffic drop and video views decrease.

Zuckerberg rationalized that the changes will ultimately make for a better Facebook experience, naturally, but might actually cause people to spend less time on the social network.

“I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable,” he wrote.

UPDATE: Jan. 11, 2018, 5:07 p.m. PST This post has been updated with more information about the News Feed changes.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2018/01/11/facebook-news-feed-algorithm-changes-family-friends/

TripAdvisor apologizes for deleting warnings of rape

Kristie Love's TripAdvisor review on her vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico was deleted.
Image: Darren Carroll/Getty ImageS

TripAdvisor has apologized to a sexual assault survivor after an investigation revealed the website had deleted posts alleging assaults at resorts in Mexico. The belated apology comes seven years after the attack.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shared the story of Kristie Love, who had posted on TripAdvisor about her rape at an Iberostar resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Love said she had her post removed several times. 

“Since 2010, when the forum post was removed, our policies and processes have evolved to better provide information like this to other travelers. As a result, when recently brought to our attention, the victim’s initial forum post was republished by our staff,” TripAdvisor wrote in a statement. 

But it wasn’t just Love. The several-month-long investigation revealed more than a dozen travelers had their posts on TripAdvisor removed for similar reasons. In fact, three people reported being sexually assaulted or raped at the same resort in Mexico and subsequently had their TripAdvisor posts deleted. 

The problem stems from TripAdvisor’s content moderation. Other crowdsourced review sites like Yelp and social networks like Facebook and Twitter face similar problems with deciding what violates their policies. Mistakes are frequently made. TripAdvisor also tries to manage any hearsay, but the policy appears to inconsistently enforced. 

“To me, it’s like censoring,” Wendy Avery-Swanson told the Journal Sentinel. She had a post about her blacking out from alcohol served at a swim-up bar removed.

TripAdvisor provided several different reasons at the time for why their reviews were removed. One instance claimed the post contained language or was about a topic that was not “family friendly.” 

According to TripAdvisor, the site does allow for negative reviews and stories like Love’s and Avery-Swanson’s. Specifically, its interpretation of the family-friendly guidelines has changed since Love’s review was removed in 2010. 

“We recognized then that our previous guidelines went too far.”

“At the time, we had a policy whereby we judged content to be in breach of our guidelines if it did not adhere to family friendly language. More than 7 years ago that meant all language needed to be G-rated. … We recognized then that our previous guidelines went too far in preventing information like this from being shared,” a TripAdvisor spokesperson told Mashable in an email.

“A simple search of TripAdvisor will show numerous reviews from travelers over the last several years who wrote about their first-hand experiences that include matters of robbery or theft, assault and rape,” the spokesperson continued. 

It’s worth noting that TripAdvisor’s business model in part relies on users booking through its website. TripAdvisor denied any link between how its content guidelines are applied and its commercial relationships.

TripAdvisor boasts more than 535 million reviews on hotel, airlines, restaurants, and local attractions. Unlike other companies that help with direct booking like Airbnb, airlines, and hotels, TripAdvisor doesn’t verify that reviews or forum posts are written by people who actually experienced what they wrote about.

The tech company follows its own publishing guidelines and employs about 300 people to moderate posts and ensure “content integrity,” a spokesperson told the Journal Sentinel. TripAdvisor also relies on software to detect fake reviews. 

The alleged censorship may fall outside of TripAdvisor’s offices, however. As the Journal Sentinel notes, TripAdvisor allows non-employees known as “trusted community members” to remove posts. The company declined to disclose who they are or how they are chosen but said they are “trusted, highly rated users and volunteers drawn from the global travel community.”  

TripAdvisor added that these privileges can be removed if a member is “overly promoting” their businesses. These volunteers are unable to remove reviews but do moderate forum posts. 

After the Journal Sentinel report, TripAdvisor said it is making changes. For example, Love’s post has been reinstated. The site is also creating a “badge” notification that will alert users to health, safety, and discrimination issues. This designation will be based on media reports and other credible sources, TripAdvisor said.

“We’re currently going through additional quality assurance testing, and expect it to be launched before the end of the year,” a TripAdvisor spokesperson told Mashable

This post was updated with additional insight from TripAdvisor.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/11/02/tripadvisor-deleted-warnings-rapes-mexico-resorts-journal-sentinel/

91-year-old former congressman sets the Twitter bar in the Trump era

John Dingell has been owning Twitter for years.
Image: ambar del moral/mashable

91-year-old former congressman John Dingell has been quick, witty, and on fire with his 140 characters for years.

Despite his age, he knows how to use the tweet machine the way it was intended: biting commentary, playful retweets, and insightful and smart reactions. Time and again he’s shown he’s mastered Twitter.

After tweeter-in-chief Donald Trump was elected, Dingell’s Twitter game has become even more relevant and fiery.

After the violence in Charlottesville and Trump’s bumbling mess of a response to the anti-Semitism and white supremacy on display, Dingell took to Twitter in the days following. One particular tweet resonated, with thousands praising the longtime Michigan lawmaker for posting what the president struggled to say. 

Just look at those likes.

Once known as an imposing Democrat with strong opinions and determined to pass universal health care, he’s refocused his energy toward the Twittersphere, where he still speaks his mind loud and clear even if it’s not on Capitol Hill.

Sure, Dingell also spends a lot of his time tweeting about Michigan sports. But after retiring after nearly 60 years in office at the age of 87 (he was the longest-serving member of Congress in history), he’s kept a running commentary on the ridiculousness of the government and society in general.

In the Trump era, where the president uses a micro-blogging platform to announce policy, devise political strategy, and sling insults, Dingell’s reactions and responses are a go-to source of humor, insight, and reflection.

Dingell’s Trump tweets also have bite. Since inauguration day (and throughout the election, too, if you want to look back and laugh-cry) we’ve been treated to these gems that often encapsulate what a lot of us are thinking.

On resignation

On Trump’s staffing problems

On the health care fight

On Russia and lying

On Trump’s Middle East trip

On cake 

When Trump gave an interview about a missile strike on Syria he talked mostly about “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.” It was — weird. Dingell noticed.

On the wall

Dingell joined Twitter in 2010. In the seven-plus years since, he’s tweeted almost 5,000 times. Trump, 71, joined about a year earlier, but has racked up nearly 40,000 tweets — eight times the number of tweets, which seems like a good way to measure Trump’s Twitter obsession.

Dingell’s targets go beyond Trump. 

Years before the former reality TV show host joined the political circus, Dingell was posting sharp commentary on, well, everything. The Atlantic called his Twitter feed “the best” back in 2014. Some of Dingell’s earlier Twitter home runs include a post about Sharknado, excellent usage of the hashtag and term “YOLO,” and taking an internet meme to disparage himself. 

In recent days he’s brought down Sen. Ted Cruz with his wit. He’s plugged in to internet culture, whether it’s April the pregnant giraffe or the Kardashians.

With Dingell’s decades of insider knowledge, his posts go beyond your average snarky Trump commentary that poke at the thin-skinned president. Luckily, Dingell hasn’t gotten blocked, and maybe he won’t if he keeps up with his smartly crafted ripostes.

His tweets spark discussion, replies, and thousands of retweets and likes.

If this retired 90-something Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient can keep up with Trump and everything else on Twitter, there’s no excuse for the rest of us. Except for the fact that John Dingell has already won Twitter. Maybe the rest of us should just go home.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/09/16/john-dingell-twitter-trump/

Facebook’s original video is something publishers are actually excited for

Virtually Dating" is a five-episode series produced by Cond Nast Entertainment.
Image: conde nast entertainment

For all of Facebook’s big talk about video, it was still just part of the almighty News Feed.

Publishers hoping to capture a moment of a user’s attention looked for thumb-stopping moments, which gave rise to a new and not-terribly compelling format of video that remains endemic to Facebook.

Watch is something different. Facebook’s new original video program features TV-like shows made by media companies. Perhaps most importantly, the shows are showcased in a brand new section of the social network.

That’s enough to convince publishers, who have spent years contorting to fit into Facebook’s plans, that Watch could be big.

“We are really excited,” said Dawn Ostroff, president of Cond Nast Entertainment, which is producing a dating show with a virtual reality twist for Watch. “This is a new opportunity, a new type of content. [Facebook’s] trying to open up a whole new area for content makers.”

Oren Katzeff, Tastemade‘s head of programming, offered similar excitement. The food-focused media company has created six shows for Facebook Watch.

“Were able to be a part of appointment viewing, and thats huge,” Katzeff said

That enthusiasm is quite unlike how publishers have previously behaved when asked about their work with and on Facebook. Typically, there’s a roll of the eyes, a sigh, and a list of grievances.

“The problem with Facebook’s entire ‘news team’ is that they’re glorified client services people,” the head of digital operations at a major news outlet told Mashable at F8, the company’s annual developer conference in April.

Now, there’s a new sense of hope among the media industry. Facebook’s massive scale has always tempted publishers, but revenue has been elusive. Facebook’s new program, with its emphasis on quality content and less on thumb-bait, seems ready-made for high-end ads. These original shows, in concept, also compete with what’s available live on TV and bingeable on Netflix and Huluplatforms that most publishers haven’t cracked.

“I think it is where people will go to watch on-demand programming and live news, and I intend Cheddar to be the leading live news player on Watch,” Jon Steinberg, CEO of business news show Cheddar, wrote in a private Twitter message.

Facebook’s Watch platform

Image: facebook

Simultaneously, there’s little stress for publishers about potential revenuefor now. Facebook has guaranteed minimum earnings for each episode, according to an executive at a participating publisher who could not be named since financial discussions are private. Facebook not only pays a licensing fee to publishers but also will split revenue from mid-roll ads.

It’s not the first time Facebook has cut checks for publishers to support video efforts. Last year, Facebook paid publishers, including Mashable, to produce live videos, requiring a minimum number of minutes streamed per month. (Mashable is also a Watch partner.)

But Facebook’s live video effort was slow to start, and publishers didn’t reap in rewardsespecially when it came to the return of their investments, several participants told Mashable.

It wasn’t all their fault or Facebook’s. For one, Facebook users weren’t really used to going to the site or the app for live video. Since then, Facebook has released several products, including a redesigned version of the current video tab and a TV app, both of which better support the new ecosystem. Publishers’ series will be spotlighted on the Facebook’s new tab for shows, for example. The experience is slowly being rolled out to users over the next month.

Participating publishers are going all in.

Tastemade produced six shows over the last few months and is still wrapping up a couple. Three are food focused: Kitchen Little, Struggle Meals, and Food To Die For. Two are more home and lifestyle: Move-In Day and Safe Deposit. The sixth is a late-night comedy show with celebrity interviews, hosted by an animated taco, called Let’s Taco Bout It.

“Tomas grew up as a Taco, and he had adopted parents, and his life goal has been to discover who his true parents are. He tries to relate with his guests,” Katzeff said.

Tomas Taco

Image: tastemade

What’s exciting here is not just an animated taco, but the fact that these publishers are well positioned to scale these tacos… err video series.

Maybe an animated taco won’t appeal to all 2 billion of Facebook’s users, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. Unlike TV, these shows aren’t locked into specific networks with a specific time-slot. Rather, they can be directed to actual people, based on their interests (Facebook likes) and demographic information.

“With Facebook Watch, the era of audience parting has truly arrived,” wrote Nick Cicero of Delmondo, a Facebook media solutions partner for video analytics.

Unlike TV, Facebook has a built-in platform for conversation. Ostroff of Cond Nast Entertainment said she believed Facebook greenlighted Virtually Dating, a show where blind dates take place in a virtual reality world, for the Watch platform because of the potential for online conversation.

“If it works, it was something that could go viral or a show that everyone could weigh in on,” Ostroff said. “Were excited about learning, learning how the viewer and the consumer is going to use [Watch]. Whats going to succeed and whats not.”

No one is saying it’s been easy. Several publishers told Mashable they have been careful to make sure they are staying in budget. They also noted that it is still a testone that they will be closely monitoring. Now that the shows are near launch, publishers said they will need to focus on promotion.

Watch “is really great for those who were actually able to get into the program,” said Jarrett Moreno, cofounder of ATTN, which has created Health Hacks starring Jessica Alba and We Need to Talk with Nev Schulman and Laura Perlongo.”It’s a priority for Facebook. They’ve emphasized that.”

A priority, for now.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/08/12/facebook-watch-original-video-publishers-pitchfork/