Archives November 22, 2016

Social media and the anti-fact age

Adam Turner at The Age writes:

“When you look at how social media works, it was inevitable that it would turn into one of the world’s most powerful propaganda tools. It’s often painted as a force for good, letting people bypass the traditional gatekeepers in order to quickly disseminate information, but there’s no guarantee that this information is actually true.

Facebook has usurped the role of the mainstream media in disseminating news, but hasn’t taken on the fourth estate’s corresponding responsibility for keeping the bastards honest. The mainstream media has no-one to blame but itself, having engaged in a tabloid race to the bottom which devalued truth to the point that blatant liars are considered more honest.

The fragmentation of news is already creating a filter bubble in that most people don’t tend to read the newspaper from front to back, or sit through entire news bulletins, they just pick and choose what interests them. The trouble with Facebook is that it also reinforces bias, the more extreme your political views the less likely you are to see anything with an opposing viewpoint which might help you develop a more well-rounded view of the world.”

Brooke Binkowski, the managing editor of the fact-checking at Snopes.com says, “Honestly, most of the fake news is incredibly easy to debunk because it’s such obvious bullshit…”

The problem, Binkowski believes, is that the public has lost faith in the media broadly — therefore no media outlet is considered credible any longer. The reasons are familiar: as the business of news has grown tougher, many outlets have been stripped of the resources they need for journalists to do their jobs correctly. “When you’re on your fifth story of the day and there’s no editor because the editor’s been fired and there’s no fact checker so you have to Google it yourself and you don’t have access to any academic journals or anything like that, you will screw stories up,” she says.”

UPDATE 1/12/2016 — Most students can’t spot fake news

“If you thought fake online news was a problem for impressionable adults, it’s even worse for the younger crowd. A Stanford study of 7,804 middle school, high school and college students has found that most of them couldn’t identify fake news on their own. Their susceptibility varied with age, but even a large number of the older students fell prey to bogus reports. Over two thirds of middle school kids didn’t see why they shouldn’t trust a bank executive’s post claiming that young adults need financial help, while nearly 40 percent of high schoolers didn’t question the link between an unsourced photo and the claims attached to it.

Why did many of the students misjudge the authenticity of a story? They were fixated on the appearance of legitimacy, rather than the quality of information. A large photo or a lot of detail was enough to make a Twitter post seem credible, even if the actual content was incomplete or wrong. There are plenty of adults who respond this way, we’d add, but students are more vulnerable than most.

As the Wall Street Journal explains, part of the solution is simply better education: teach students to verify sources, question motivations and otherwise think critically.”

(Emphasis added)

Rich people pay less attention to other people, study

“In a small recent study, researchers from New York University found that those who considered themselves in higher classes looked at people who walked past them less than those who said they were in a lower class did. The results were published in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

According to Pia Dietze, a social psychology doctoral student at NYU and a lead author of the study, previous research has shown that people from different social classes vary in how they tend to behave towards other people. So, she wanted to shed some light on where such behaviours could have originated. The research was divided into three separate studies.

For the first, Dietze and NYU psychology lab director Professor Eric Knowles asked 61 volunteers to walk along the street for one block while wearing Google Glass to record everything they looked at. These people were also asked to identify themselves as from a particular social class: either poor, working class, middle class, upper middle class, or upper class. An independent group watched the recordings and made note of the various people and things each Glass wearer looked at and for how long. The results showed that class identification, or what class each person said they belonged to, had an impact on how long they looked at the people who walked past them.

During Study 2, participants viewed street scenes while the team tracked their eye movements. Again, higher class was associated with reduced attention to people in the images.

For the third and final study, the results suggested that this difference could stem from the way the brain works, rather than being a deliberate decision. Close to 400 participants took part in an online test where they had to look at alternating pairs of images, each containing a different face and five objects. Whereas higher class participants took longer to notice when the face was different in the alternate image compared to lower classes, the amount of time it took to detect the change of objects did not differ between them. The team reached the conclusion that faces seem to be more effective in grabbing the attention of individuals who come from relatively lower class backgrounds.”

More people died taking selfies in India than anywhere in world, study says

“In 2015 alone, Indians taking selfies died while posing in front of an oncoming train, in a boat that tipped over at a picnic, on a cliff that gave way and crumbled into a 60-foot ravine and on the slippery edge of a scenic river canal. Also, a Japanese tourist trying to take a selfie fell down steps at the Taj Mahal, suffering fatal head injuries.

Researchers analysed thousands of selfies posted on Twitter and found that men were far more likely than women to take dangerous selfies. It found 13 per cent were taken in what could be dangerous circumstances, and the majority of victims were under the age of 24.

The most common cause of death worldwide was “falling off a building or mountain,” which was responsible for 29 deaths. The second most second-most common being hit by a train, responsible for 11 deaths.

The authors hope the study will serve as a warning of the hazards and inspire new mobile phone technology that can warn photo-takers if they are in a danger zone.

Last year, no-selfie zones were also established in certain areas of the massive Hindu religious gathering called the Kumbh Mela because organisers feared bottlenecks caused by selfie-takers could spark stampedes.”

Is Google’s AI-driven image resizing algorithm ‘dishonest’?

The Stack reports on Google’s “new research into upscaling low-resolution images using machine learning to ‘fill in’ the missing details,” arguing this is “a questionable stance…continuing to propagate the idea that images contain some kind of abstract ‘DNA’, and that there might be some reliable photographic equivalent of polymerase chain reaction which could find deeper truth in low-res images than either the money spent on the equipment or the age of the equipment will allow.”

“Rapid and Accurate Image Super Resolution (RAISR) uses low and high resolution versions of photos in a standard image set to establish templated paths for upward scaling… This effectively uses historical logic, instead of pixel interpolation, to infer what the image would look like if it had been taken at a higher resolution.

It’s notable that neither their initial paper nor the supplementary examples feature human faces. It could be argued that using AI-driven techniques to reconstruct images raises some questions about whether upscaled, machine-driven digital enhancements are a legal risk, compared to the far greater expense of upgrading low-res CCTV networks with the necessary resolution, bandwidth and storage to obtain good quality video evidence.”

The article points out that “faith in the fidelity of these ‘enhanced’ images routinely convicts defendants.”

Internet freedom wanes as governments target messaging and “social apps”

“Roughly two-thirds of the world’s internet users live under regimes of government censorship, according to a report from Freedom House, a pro-democracy think tank. The report adds that internet freedom declined worldwide for a sixth consecutive year in 2016 with the governments increasingly crack down on social media services and messaging apps.

In a new development, the most routinely targeted tools this year were instant messaging and calling platforms, with restrictions often imposed during times of protests or due to national security concerns,” the report says. WhatsApp emerged as the most-blocked app, facing restrictions in 12 of the 65 studied countries. The report’s scope covers the experiences of some 88 percent of the world’s Internet users. And of all 65 countries reviewed, Internet freedom in 34 — more than half — has been on a decline over the past year. Particular downturns were marked in Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador and Libya. Facebook users were arrested in 27 countries, more than any other app or platform. And such arrests are spreading. Since June of last year, police in 38 countries have arrested people for what they said on social media — surpassing even the 21 countries, where people were arrested for what they published on more traditional platforms like blogs and news sites. “Some supposed offenses were quite petty, illustrating both the sensitivity of some regimes and the broad discretion given to police and prosecutors under applicable laws,” the report says.”

Chemical traces on your phone reveal your lifestyle, say forensic scientists

“Scientists say they can deduce the lifestyle of an individual, down to the kind of grooming products they use, food they eat and medications they take, from chemicals found on the surface of their mobile phone. Experts say analysis of someone’s phone could be a boon both to healthcare professionals, and the police.

“You can narrow down male versus female; if you then figure out they use sunscreen then you pick out the [people] that tend to be outdoorsy — so all these little clues can sort of narrow down the search space of candidate people for an investigator,” said Pieter Dorrestein, co-author of the research from the University of California, San Diego.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the U.S. and Germany describe how they swabbed the mobile phone and right hand of 39 individuals and analyzed the samples using the highly sensitive technique of mass spectrometry.

The results revealed that each person had a distinct “signature” set of chemicals on their hands which distinguished them from each other. What’s more, these chemicals partially overlapped with those on their phones, allowing the devices to be distinguished from each other, and matched to their owners.

Analysis of the chemical traces using a reference database allowed the team to match the chemicals to known substances or their relatives to reveal tell-tale clues from each individual’s life — from whether they use hair-loss treatments to whether they are taking antidepressants.

“Creepy new website makes its monitoring of your online behaviour visible”

“If YOU think you are not being analysed while browsing websites, it could be time to reconsider. A creepy new website called clickclickclick has been developed to demonstrate how our online behaviour is continuously measured.

The site, which observes and comments on your behaviour in detail, and is not harmful to your computer, contains nothing but a white screen and a large green button. From the minute you visit the website, it begins detailing your actions on the screen in real-time.

The site also encourages users to turn on their audio, which offers the even more disturbing experience of having an English voice comment about your behaviour.

Designer Roel Wouters said the experiment was aimed to remind people about the serious themes of big data and privacy. “It seemed fun to thematise this in a simple and lighthearted way,” he said.

Fellow designer Luna Maurer said the website her own experiences with the internet had helped with the project. “I am actually quite internet aware, but I am still very often surprised that after I watched something on a website, a second later I get instantly personalised ads,” she said.”