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The addictive nature of gambling is widely known; it is a well-documented struggle for many and one that can ultimately have a drastic and disastrous effect on the livelihood and wellbeing of the sufferer. Gambling is not the only pastime that can progress into a damaging addiction however, with experts now frequently warning that if utilised incorrectly, social media can become a similar burden.
Now experts are warning that social media addiction bares more similarity to an ingrained dependency on gambling than previously known, with many prominent platforms in fact using the exact same methodology to keep their users hooked.

In a recent conversation with The Guardian, MIT anthropologist Natasha Schüll - author of the widely-acclaimed exploration into the psychology of gambling 'Addiction by Design', published in 2014 - said, “Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites. In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”

“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” continued Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”

Ms Schüll is far from the only individual to hold this sentiment. Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction and Director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit, compares the methodology to that employed by slot machines. He states, “The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens. Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions ... to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”

Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour at the University of Michigan, offers a rather stark summary, “Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals. These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.

“There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”

Last week Facebook hosted their annual F8 Conference, and this year’s event certainly provided no shortage of talking points. Over the course of the two-day conference Facebook unveiled new dating features, advances in AI and the addition of upvotes and downvotes to name just a few examples, but our highlight from day two has got to be the demonstration given of Facebook’s advancements in the fields of AR and VR.

The demonstration focused on the recreation of realistic physical environments in a digital space. Making use of a brand new prototype system the company’s researchers have been able to convincingly recreate such spaces in full 3D, as displayed in the side-by-side comparison video below.

In a blog post summarising the events of the F8 Conference, Facebook said, “Facebook’s advancements in AR and VR draw from an array of research areas to help us create better shared experiences, regardless of physical distance. From capturing realistic-looking surroundings to producing next-generation avatars, we’re closer to making AR/VR experiences feel like reality.”

Facebook are also testing this functionality on old 2D photos, allowing users to easily recreate spaces from their past and explore them anew. This is achieved using machine learning technology alongside “point-cloud reconstruction”, transforming photos and videos into immersive 3D worlds.

You may have noticed in the above quote that as well as working on the creation of realistic environments to explore, Facebook are also delving into ways to help computers generate photorealistic avatars. Their remarkable progress can be seen in the video below.

Account security is an important matter for users, and rightly so. Our online profiles often contain sensitive or private information, and as they are of course associated with an individual, group, or company, any comments made on such platforms may land the person associated with the account in some rather hot water. That is why it is somewhat alarming to learn that Twitter recently identified a bug within their own systems which stored user passwords, completely unmasked, in an internal log.

In a statement posted to the company’s official blog, Twitter said, “When you set a password for your Twitter account, we use technology that masks it so no one at the company can see it. We recently identified a bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log. We have fixed the bug, and our investigation shows no indication of breach or misuse by anyone.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we ask that you consider changing your password on all services where you’ve used this password. You can change your Twitter password anytime by going to the password settings page.”

The same notification was also sent to users via email.

So how exactly did this happen? Passwords stored within Twitter’s systems, obviously a necessary thing to do to enable verification, are ordinarily ‘masked’ using a process known as ‘hashing’ facilitated by a function called bcrypt. The bcrypt function replaces the actual password with a randomised set of numbers to which the system will refer for validation without revealing any actual details. The bug Twitter themselves identified was causing passwords to be stored within an internal log in their original form before the hashing process was completed. While Twitter insists that their investigation shows no sign of any issues as a result of the bug, there are nonetheless recommending that users change their passwords.

In light of this bug being found Twitter have offered the following tips on account security:
  1. Change your password on Twitter and on any other service where you may have used the same password.
  2. Use a strong password that you don’t reuse on other websites.
  3. Enable login verification, also known as two factor authentication. This is the single best action you can take to increase your account security.
  4. Use a password manager to make sure you’re using strong, unique passwords everywhere.

Snapchat just can’t catch a break at the moment, though to be fair the problem seems to be largely of their own making. Ever since the company decided to implement a major redesign of their flagship app the public’s opinion has been swayed somewhat toward the negative as users have become frustrated with the company’s apparent refusal to reverse the “annoying” changes. This is despite the fact that by the time February came around more than 1.2 million users had signed a petition demanding that Snapchat revert to their previous design.

Kylie Jenner, controversial as her fame may be in the eyes of the wider public, was once the app’s largest-drawing account. When she took to Twitter back in February to ask, “Does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore?”, it signalled dire times for the company.

In fairness Snap Inc. has been attempting to resolve the issue with yet more recent redesigns, but these have failed to win over the user base. Now these dire times have been reflected in the company’s finances, as Snap Inc.’s share price dropped by a massive 22% in early trading. A combination of the aforementioned user backlash, along with the company’s ongoing struggle to compete with the global giant that is Facebook and the ever-popular Instagram, are attributed with causing Snapchat’s financial woes.

Growth is proving to be a major hurdle for the app; in fact Snapchat also issued a growth warning which indicated that due to the fallout surrounding the redesign they were expecting a substantial slowdown in revenue throughout the current quarter. As you may expect this admission wo0rried analysts and investors alike causing the share price to suffer as a result.

Ding-dong! The witch is dead. This is the cry being heard across social media platforms as Cambridge Analytica, the UK-based political consulting firm embroiled in the Facebook data harvesting scandal, have announced that they are immediately ceasing all operations and beginning insolvency proceeding in the UK and US.

The company announced their decision in a press release on May 2nd, throughout which they continued to deny any wrongdoing.

“Over the past several months, Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of numerous unfounded accusations and, despite the Company’s efforts to correct the record, has been vilified for activities that are not only legal, but also widely accepted as a standard component of online advertising in both the political and commercial arenas,” the company stated.

“Despite Cambridge Analytica’s unwavering confidence that its employees have acted ethically and lawfully, the siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the Company’s customers and suppliers.  As a result, it has been determined that it is no longer viable to continue operating the business, which left Cambridge Analytica with no realistic alternative to placing the Company into administration.”

The problem in the eyes of the public is that the scandal was more about ethics than laws; in fact surely the upcoming overhaul of regulations under GDPR is evidence enough that current laws are insufficient. While Cambridge Analytica and their parent company SCL Elections Ltd. May not have broken any laws they have damaged their reputation irreparably and lost any measure of trust the public may have granted them. In the wake of all this, the company’s closure comes as no real surprise.

Video is experiencing something of a boom on Twitter and seems to be turning their fortunes in the process. Twitter assert that video now accounts for more than half of their ad revenue and was again the fastest-growing ad format in the first quarter of 2018; a fact they are clearly keen to capitalise on as the company announced during their 2018 Digital Content NewFronts event that they are upping the number of premium content deals they hold with traditional media partners to nearly double its current figure, and they’re bringing in some pretty notable brands as they do so.

Media companies now partnering with Twitter include the likes of Disney/ESPN, NBC Universal, Viacom, Live Nation Entertainment, Hearst Magazine Digital Studios, and Will Packer Media. The company have also expanded existing deals with sporting bodies such as MLB and MLS.

To give you an idea of the sort of content you can expect, NBC Universal will distribute live video from NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, and E!. Viacom meanwhile will reportedly distribute a total of four live shows based on MTV, BET, and Comedy Central properties.

Most exciting from my own point of view however is the deal with Disney/ESPN, which will bring live shows from ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel, Disney Motion Pictures, and the now global-behemoth that is Marvel.

In a blog post explaining the new deals, the company stated, “Twitter is what’s happening and this makes it a unique and powerful platform for premium video content that people watch and discuss in real time. With these new content offerings, we’re helping people enjoy more great video content, helping publishers drive more revenue, and helping brands align with the best mobile video content, all at massive and accelerating scale. If you’re a brand, there’s no better time to reach and engage your audience through premium video content.”

The timing couldn’t be better for Twitter, and investors are already getting excited about what these new deals may mean for the company’s prospects. I suppose only time will tell on that front, but as users we are surely on the winning end of this.

For a full breakdown of all new content coming to Twitter as part of the new deals, take a look at the summary provided in the original report from Variety.

Taking to the stage in San Jose, California for the F8 Facebook Developer Conference on May 1st, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced during his keynote speech that Facebook will be delving into the world of dating with new features designed for “building real, long-term relationships - not just for hook-ups.” The latter comment, which Zuckerberg delivered with a chuckle, appears to be a not-so-subtle swipe at long-established dating apps like Tinder, which has gained something of a negative reputation in many circles.

In a blog post summarising the first day of the F8 Conference, Facebook shed further light on how exactly the new feature will work, reiterating the explanation given on stage by Facebook product chief Chris Cox.

Facebook product chief Chris Cox addresses the audience at the F8 Conference   - Img: Facebook
“People already use Facebook to meet new people, and we want to make that experience better,” the post states, “People will be able to create a dating profile that is separate from their Facebook profile - and potential matches will be recommended based on dating preferences, things in common, and mutual friends. They’ll have the option to discover others with similar interests through their Groups or Events. However, what people do within the dating feature will not be shown to their friends. We’ll share more information when this begins testing later this year.”

User privacy and of course the potential for embarrassment are always concerns with such features, especially on a site such as Facebook which contains much of our personal information and links to our social circles. Attempting to address this concern, Zuckerberg told the F8 audience, “We have designed this with privacy and safety in mind from the beginning. Your friends aren’t going to see your profile, and you’re only going to be suggested to people who are not your friends.”

The announcement is already having an impact upon established brands in the dating game such as Tinder and OkCupid, both owned by parent company Match Group. The Verge reports that as soon as Facebook’s plans were announced, Match Group’s stock dropped by 17%.

As is apparently the way with each and every new feature Facebook launch however, this one is not without its controversies. Some have questioned the company’s decision to allow individuals listed as ‘in a relationship’ or ‘married’ to use the dating feature as they fear it will promote extramarital relationships and messy break-ups. Others however point to the occurrence of open relationships and other non-monogamous forms of relationships and instead applaud Facebook for their inclusivity.

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