2016

For James Beavis, a medical student raising money for homelessness charity Crisis by sleeping rough on the streets of London for 31 days this Christmas, social media is a vital tool in reaching out to potential donors. I met James for an interview last week, to find out more about the campaign, and to hear about the ways in which he’s used sites like Facebook to raise over £15,000 in the space of two weeks. Having undertaken a similar project in 2012 over the course of eight days, James ultimately says that things have changed a lot with regards fundraising on social media. 

So, James, you’re on a lot of social media platforms; Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter. Which is the best for your campaign?
Facebook. Facebook’s the best, although there’s a big debate between Facebook or YouTube. Facebook is good for starting a small campaign, for getting something started. But then it’s quite often good to move to YouTube once you’ve got your viewership. Facebook’s really good for starting something because you’ve got so many options to 'like', because you appear on people’s news feeds; whereas YouTube is really good for getting on things like Reddit, which is where something explodes.

Last time, I did the majority of the campaign on YouTube, and it did get on things like Reddit. But honestly, I’m sticking with my guns and sticking to Facebook, just because I know I’ve got a followership. If I was to do it again, I’d probably start on YouTube, but I want everything in one place, so people can watch [the videos]...I’m no good at video editing, I’m learning it.

Have you got software?
I’ve got iMovie. I know how to use it and I’m a technophobe.

How are you finding Snapchat compares? 
Snapchat’s been good as well because people sit there and they go “boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom” and I go “Jeez”.

It’s in their pocket and it’s there and—whereas with Facebook, where they have to seek [the campaign] out, Snapchat goes to them. That’s the biggest difference. Snapchat, it’s in their inbox whereas Facebook they have to go and seek it out.

It keeps people repeatedly engaged...touch wood...in fact, I was worried about it going down. In one of the videos, it was down four [thousand views] and in the last one it went up four [thousand]…and this is one of the issues. You want to up your engagement...[but] it’s so difficult. You want constant new material; but there isn’t constant new material. My days are actually very mundane. You want to see me - it sounds bad - but you want to see me with a black eye or something.

The use of hashtags; sharing Facebook posts; inviting people to join the group: which do you think is the most important, helpful and effective?
Inviting people to join the group, because then I’ve got a one-way connection with them, and I can get to them rather than having to go through someone else. By having that connection...I get access to that person, I can access them directly, rather than having to access that person’s network by virtue of another network.

Last time, I did an 'event' [on Facebook]. But Facebook has changed. Last time, the event had something like 120,000 people invited. That’s viral, I’d say, arguably. But, the thing was that Facebook, you used to be able to use codes and you used to be able to hack Facebook if you used Java script. Now, Facebook has changed it and it’s so difficult to do. We’re almost there, but the thing is, you can’t invite that many people to an event. The max is 200 in a certain time.

Could you not just invite a big group of people to the event and then invite a load more people again?
I could do, but that would take a lot of time. I’d have to go around on my phone and click everyone. And this is what I’m keen for you to do and what I’m really keen for people to just—it takes less than a minute to click 60 times; but if you just click through that list with your 60 most-talked-to people, they’re the 60 people who are most likely to engage with something that you do on your account.

Would you say it’s something of a hybrid, then, between social media and word of mouth? It’s not that you can simply set up a Facebook page and let it run itself; you’ve got to have people who know people.
Yep. I can show you the stats if you like.

Please do.
So, we’ve got 2,426 likes which is good in one way, but is sort of disappointing in another. I’ve got about 4,000 Facebook friends, so it’s a little bit disappointing because you’d like every one of your friends to like this.

Insights…when I last did it, this wasn’t so monetarised. And also, last time, Facebook, you know it puts [limits] on how much you hear on other people’s newsfeeds now? They didn’t used to do that, as far as I know. It used to be click-based. Which it still is, to a certain extent.

So there are certain algorithms that are getting in the way of your exposure. 
And that’s once it’s for charity. They’re trying to charge me. They own the platform, I get it, and thaey’re a business; but if they took way that [obstacle] for charities...[charities] would be able to exploit the platform so much more to promote the cause.

Is social media as reliable as the old fashioned methods of text messages and so forth?
There's two sides to that.

Yes, because you get 'seen' notifications; people have more pressure to reply...If you're asking someone to do something personally, you can see they've seen it; and they can see that you've seen that. Which is useful, especially when you're asking someone to do something which they can't be bothered to do.

No, because social media curtails your viewership. With text messages, if I send a thousand texts to people, a thousand texts will come to them. If I put out a status that should come to four thousand friends, five hundred will see it.

But social media is free. 
Text messages are free. There are unlimited texts on pretty much every contract.

Modern day social media is a blessing and a plague. It's a blessing in as much as it does let you reach a lot of people very quickly, it's easy. But it's a plague because it charges you when you want it not to...Social media four years ago was such a different creature. 

 How would you like people to get involved? What’s the best thing they can do?
There are three things:

The first one, just like the social media pages. By liking the pages, you keep up-to-date and you know exactly what’s going on, which enables you to take more action.

Second thing is sharing; sharing the videos. I’ve got a network, a reasonably big network; but if I can utilise other people’s networks - even if you’re not going to donate yourself, you’re sharing your network…So far, we’ve had, across all the videos, around a thousand shares. We’ve raised £6000. That means each time someone’s clicked 'share', that’s been worth around six pounds on average to the homelessness charity. Just by clicking share. That’s enabled maybe three or four people to have a meal on Christmas day. That’s incredible.

Third thing they can do, probably the most important thing, is donate. By donating they’re actually being part of the solution directly. They’re not taking chances, they can quantify the difference that they’re going to make. And that will make a difference.

Finally, solidarity. You're getting a lot of support and solidarity messages on social media. Does it help? 
It's frustrating rather than helpful. Quite often, you get messages saying the words “inspirational” and “hero”…but it’s actually quite upsetting. It's upsetting because people do this every single day; and the people who are the real heroes are the people who are actually out there doing it...People take the time to say it to me because I'm white middle-class.

I've got about 250 donators, yesterday we started receiving some new corporate donations like we had yesterday Thermal workwear clothing company FlexiTog and Cambridge based Digital Marketing Agency The SMF Group .
FlexiTog has donated 10% of their sells on the 21st of this month and The SMF Group has matched FlexiTog’s donation plus has offered to support us running a campaign on their social media and Social Ads. I've definitely had as well more than 250 people sending solidarity messages...I need them to donate. 
To support James' fundraising efforts, you can donate to Crisis via the project’s page, here.
You can follow James’ progress on Facebook, here.
And you can use the hashtag #Homelessatxmas or follow James’ activities on Twitter, here.




The Verge
I think we can all agree, 360 video is just about the coolest thing you've ever tried and failed to find an effective use for. It's been on the front line of Facebook's ongoing battle to become the prominent online video service. It's a battle they've yet to take the lead in, largely because they're competing with YouTube, who have what you could very charitably describe as a massive head start.

360 video has helped them stay in contention to some degree, but YouTube have it too, and there's little to differentiate them at this stage. That might all be about to change though, as on Tuesday Facebook will be rolling out a form of 360 live broadcasting. It's exactly as it sounds, enabling users to watching real-time videos in 360 mode, ostensibly making them more immersive.

The logical progression from this will be live VR, which is really at the core of basically all of Facebook's machinations at the moment, it's the basket they're throwing all their eggs in. If you ask me, it's a flimsy basket, and it reminds me of all the Microsoft big-wigs who so confidently claimed that everyone would end up using Palm Pilots, or when Nintendo decided that motion controllers were the future of gaming.

The longevity of VR notwithstanding, one aspect of it which could well take off is indeed live video. Imagine if you could have experienced Felix Baumgartner's orbital jump through his eyes, in 360 vision or even through a VR headset. To the point, the first broadcast Facebook have earmarked for this feature will be a feed of 8 scientists emerging from isolated pods that they've been living in for the past 80 days to research how humans would cope with being transported to Mars.

Viewers will also be able to take a closer look at the living quarters themselves, and even see what it feels like to don a space suit and take a ride in a rover. The space kind, not the shameful reflection on the lingering demise of British engineering kind.

For the time being, the service is going to remain limited to only a few select pages, with an eye to expanding it from next year onwards. It's a wise move, giving them time to figure what the best way to promote/implement the feature is, and live video is a market Facebook have been able to corner quite effectively, so the changes of YouTube blasting past them are far lower.

bgr.com
For many, the screenshotting tool has become the equivalent of bookmarking on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. It's not particularly slick, but it's the best you've got if you're especially desperate to save a post before it gets lost in the ether. Instagram has always been about the here and now, and Snapchat is just ephemeral by nature, but sometimes, either for the sake of reference or relevance, you need to store something.

It's an issue that has never really been directly addressed, but now Instagram have take steps to make life a bit easier. With the latest update, you can bookmark posts the same way you can on Facebook, enabling you to view them any time in a separate tab.

There are many reason why you might want to save an Instagram post - ideas for cooking, researching how to decorate your house, stalking an ex, the list goes on, but previously you'd have to scroll through the 'liked posts' tab, and the more people you follow, the more difficult it is to track down your own likes.

Of course, the key difference is that everyone else can see your likes, whereas bookmarks are completely private. This does mean that anyone who might be minded to stalk and/or obsess over people on their Instagram feed are going to have a far easier time doing so, but on the surface level, if you're researching a gift to get someone, or anything else you might be a bit more coy about, this will help.

Here's the thing, though, remember how Instagram introduced a feature which would notify users if and when somebody else took a screenshot of a direct message? Well bookmarking a post doesn't notify anyone. You can interpret that as less protective, or less anxiety inducing, but in either case, you have to wonder what Facebook are really trying to turn Instagram into, because at the moment there are a lot of contrasting factors.

There's one last thing to bear in mind: if you've bookmarked a post and the user deletes it, it's gone for good, so screenshotting is still the best way to approach it.

The New Yorker
Ah Snapchat updates, they're like a mini Christmas unto themselves. Some apps just fix bugs and maybe change a few formats here and there, but with almost every Snapchat update comes a shiny new feature. You'd think that by now the app would be hopelessly overcrowded, but somehow it's managed to remain as smooth as ever.

This time around, the most prominent feature they've added is Groups: a group chat function which allows up to 16 people to talk all at once. Just like the normal platform, any snaps sent can only be opened and replayed once by each individual person, and 24 hours after the group has gone inactive, it disappears. All the other features you have in one-on-one chat are present and correct as well.

Helpfully, there's also a button which allows you to shoot straight out of the group and into an individual chat screen with anyone else there, just in case you want to tell them to lay off, or that you're madly in love with them, or that there's a badger under the table with a gun. All you have to do is tap them right on their stupid face. If only that was how you engaged with people privately in real life, things would be so much easier.

Meanwhile, a few new features have been introduced to help you make your snaps the prettiest in all the land. The most prominent of these is Paintbrush, which allows you to make the snaps stored in Memories look as if they were painted. Then there's Scissors, which enables you to cut out part of a snap and turn it into a sticker. Novelties, both, but when you consider them mixed in with all the other fun editing options, you can see how they enhance the experience.

Lastly, the app has been given some level of synergy with Shazam. Basically, you can now use Shazam within Snapchat. If you hear a song that you want to identify, you tap the camera button and Shazam will spring to life and give you the song ID as it does inside the main app. You can then tap a prompt to learn more about the song, listen a preview, browse similar ones and all else. Makes you wonder why you'd even bother using the Shazam app anymore.


A bevy unsettling things have happened in the past month. From Trump taking leadership to Facebook's issues with fake news, social media users have sat pretty observing the wheeling circus of events, unable to have legitimate debates about goings-on. There is a gaping hole in social media platforms. Where can an informed person go to speak with others about political and social issues without having to worry about offending their Facebook friends or fall prey to trolls?

Never fear, Tumblr has carved out a space for people to have real, actionable conversations. Action on Tumblr is a hub created to be a sounding board over which people can speak about current issues, the state of the world, or air their concerns about the future:
... we'll be handing the megaphone to the marginalized and letting them speak for themselves. We'll be providing venues for you all to connect with each other and become your own collective agents of change. We'll be listening to you and supporting you. Whatever we can do to help you determine the future of the world you live in, we'll be doing it. We all need to work together, and we need to work fast. When you're ready to get to work, or if you're already making action happen, be sure to post about it and tag it #takeaction on Tumblr.
With 555 million active users, Tumblr ranks just ahead of Instagram with 500 million users. An overwhelming majority of the 19 million U.S. American users are between 25 and 34 years old. Those pesky, socially conscious millennials are at it again; stirring the pot and addressing key issues while older generations idly stand by.

Popular Tumblr feature Answer Time, a Q&A aspect over which people can can converse with platform users, has been rebranded for Action on Tumblr. Issue Time, the rebrand, follows the same Q&A format, but focuses on connecting users with experts, advocates and other individuals with compelling stories (i.e. each other). If you're familiar with Reddit, Answer Time and Issue Time are similar to an Ask Me Anything (AMA). Some trending issues at the time of writing are abortion access and reproductive rights, the impact of voter ID laws on people of colour, and LGBTQ rights.

http://action.tumblr.com/post/152983699740/how-do-voter-id-laws-impact-people-of-color

Candidates for Issue Time undergo a lengthy selection period, anywhere from two weeks to a month. The long vetting process is likely due to the reach that individual will have and the potentially inflammatory questions they must answer. An Issue Time speaker must be able to answer user questions with valuable information, some of which may concern clinical or medical topics.

Victoria McCullough, social media impact and public policy manager at Tumblr, said in an interview with Mashable, "We have a very woke crowd on Tumblr. We saw a lot of activity in that community over the election, and have since we've been around. What we wanted with Action was to try to add a little more volume to that conversation by creating space."

Darth Trump

Shortly after Trump's election to office, reports of harassment, hate crimes, and harmful rhetoric have swept the nation. Seen in schools and elsewhere, the future of the great American nation is plagued with uncertainty; the only sure thing is documented rise in cases of harassment towards women, people of colour, immigrants, and those within the LGBTQ community. In the past, Tumblr has been the grassroots solution for social movements like Black Lives Matter. Action on Tumblr is not only for filling the halls of the internet with resounding voices, McCullough said that it is meant to bridge the gap between online activism and real-life actions, just as it has with previous causes. Tumblr's headquarters in New York City have played host for social organistaions' meetings, gatherings, and talks, namely for Ladies Get Paid and Social Cinema. About real-world movements, McCullough said, "Whether we're hitting the road or we're here at Tumblr, we're giving some more thought to how we can bring action to folks in real life."

Proactive people are encouraged to share their personal contributions with the hashtag #takeaction. Ever a proponent of open dialogue, Tumblr's Ask Box allows users to directly ask questions of others and has been absorbed into Action on Tumblr.

One issue that has proven itself detrimental is confining oneself to participation within a community of like-minded people. Choosing not to venture outside of familiarity means that people are exposed only to similar viewpoints. Is Tumblr's social hub simply another echo chamber for the socially conscious? McCullough told Mashable that she had given a lot of though to that question because, following Trump's election, "it was so clear that social media could have a greater impact by making sure we're not being the echo chamber." While a large majority of Tumblr is made up of millennials, 1.5 million U.S. American users are over 55, a vastly underwhelming number when compared to Facebook's 18.4 million users aged 55-64. Issue Time is the place to feature people who are of dissimilar mindsets, who can shed light on differing opinions, who may not need to be intimately familiar with Tumblr to make a difference. Hopefully, that aspect can be used to break the barrier between "them" and "us" on the social platform.

Understanding Tumblr

Tumblr as a social platform is somewhat hard to describe. First and foremost, it is a blog. In addition to traditional content (text with pictures/videos and hyperlinks) any type of media can be uploaded, either as original content or imported from other websites. Things like photos/videos, quotes, links, chats, and audio are submitted as standalone posts without textual clutter. Created in 2007, Tumblr was highly visual from the start, allowing users to blog in videos, pictures, and GIFs before they became a standard of communication. Visual expression set Tumblr apart. Not simply a blogging outlet, Tumblr incorporated a social aspect with likes and reblogs (posting someone else's content with credit).


Visual social media platform Instagram has added new, long-awaited functionality for users. An announcement today revealed that comments can now be liked in order to create a more friendly environment. Previously, comments were only able to be posted. Aside from that, no other modifications could be made. A comment was put up, and that was it. Today, that all changes. Little heart icons will now display next to each comment. Simply tap the heart icon to like a comment. Now, Instagram users can dole out likes just as they do on Facebook. The new feature first started rolling out in November, according to Buzzfeed, but is now available to all Instagram users.

Instagram
Kevin Systrom, co-founder and CEO of Instagram, said in a blog post, "Comments are where the majority of conversation happens on Instagram. While comments are largely positive, they're not always kind or welcome."

With the new update, users will also have the option to disable comments on posts. Sometimes content needs to "stand on its own" without influence from outside sources. Disabling, as seen on YouTube and various other platforms, will shield sensitive posts from inflammatory comments and negative diatribes. For now, this feature has yet to be widely rolled out an is only available on select accounts. In the coming weeks it will be made universally available. To disable comments, go to "Advanced Settings" and select "Turn Off Commenting." This can be toggled before or after posting, by selecting the ellipses (...) to turn commenting on or off.

Instagram
Before the update, Instagram allowed comments to be filtered by keyword. An inaccurate method at best, the feature only blocked comments containing specific words. However, if a commenter was determined enough, they could easily get around this block by using different words or refraining from using profanity. The new comment disabling function will make it so that users be able to exercise control over their "comments experience."
Instagram

A lesser aspect of the update is the changes to private accounts. For private accounts, followers must be approved before being given access. Once added, followers could only be removed by blocking them. With the update, followers can simply be removed. Tapping he ellipses (...) next to a person's name will give you the option to remove them from your followers. The removed person will not be alerted.

Additionally, an anonymous reporting tool has been added to alert Instagram to posts featuring self-injury. First revealed in Seventeen magazine by Instagram's Marne Levine, the tool allows users to flag others who may seem on the brink of hurting themselves. Once alerted to a potential case of self-harm, Instagram connects the person with real-world sources for help. There are a range of options presented to flagged users; Instagram offers tips like talking to a friend, local helplines, Anyone searching for banned hashtags (e.g. #thinspo) will be redirected to the support system. Systrom said that teams will be working 24/7 to monitor reports.

Wired
As European Union regulators gave the green-light to Microsoft on Tuesday in its bid to purchase LinkedIn for $26bn, Microsoft claimed it would use its new-found power to make sure that reducing wealth inequality is an integral part of its own future policies and its interactions with governments around the world...an ironic announcement for some, seeing as how EU deliberations until this point have centred predominantly around the question of whether or not the deal would completely squash fair competition in the European market between LinkedIn and its rival professional networking sites.

Microsoft announced in a blog post on Tuesday that it would be trying from now on 'to do our part to create more opportunity for people who haven't shared in recent economic growth.' The service offered by LinkedIn will most likely improve from this point; meaning a seemingly overall better-oiled economic machine for all of us. What's more, Microsoft has also gestured towards supplying some of the data it has obtained from LinkedIn to the world's governments, that they might begin to redress wealth inequality amongst their populations.

However, apparent goodwill aside, maybe things aren't really that simple.

The decision was pushed through after Microsoft made last-minute concessions at the end of November. The EU has been grappling with criticism of the deal raised by various commentators in business and media over the past few months, led by tech giant Salesforce which (in what's admittedly most likely related news) was pipped to the post by Microsoft in the acquisition bidding for LinkedIn. Such critics have thus far been concerned with whether or not the partnership would mean LinkedIn would come to monopolise the market for professional networking websites. The concessions made by Microsoft a couple of weeks ago, however, didn't really redress their primary concerns; i.e. that Microsoft acting as gatekeeper to LinkedIn's user data could mean a raised drawbridge to other companies who previously took advantage of access to it. Rather, they were somewhat smaller, regarding access to various pieces of software and hardware.

In the aforementioned blog post, Microsoft claimed that 'the events of the past six months make not just this business opportunity, but the broader societal issues connected to them, more important.' The post then went on to describe the Brexit vote (which occurred only days after they won the acquisition bidding in June) and the recent US presidential election as evidence that 'many people feel left out and unable to participate in the economic growth and opportunities created by the rising digital economy.' Microsoft, apparently, is now going to work to redress this; using LinkedIn to do so. 

But perhaps the fact that LinkedIn itself is an entity which creates job opportunities is a factor which, to an extent, is allowing Microsoft to have its cake and eat it here. On the one hand, they're potentially now going to concentrate the profits of the professional networking market in far fewer hands than before, by virtue of the fact that LinkedIn will pull even further head of its rivals (which is perhaps the biggest flaw in a pro-growth outlook). On the other hand, however, they also claim that through this process they'll create new job opportunities; because they will be able to make LinkedIn a platform which offers an even better professional service. The latter, they claim, will outweigh the former; meaning the fact that they are now probably going to drive at least some smaller companies out of business will be a small price to pay when you consider how easy it will be for those newly-unemployed people to find another job!

So, are they fighting fire with fire? Or is this just a ruse made to distract from the same old problem? Whatever the case, the passing of the deal by the European Commission has been very beneficial for both companies. After the news broke, for example, LinkedIn's share price saw a nice jump; and for Microsoft, this was the final large obstacle in the way of completing the overall process which will undoubtedly serve as a hugely lucrative avenue for growth in the future. What that growth means for the people whom Microsoft is now apparently championing is another question.


You’re travelling abroad, there’s no wifi, and you urgently need to send your bestie a picture of #MachuPicchu captioned “yolo, you know?” on Snapchat. Ordinarily, you’d have to buy a certain amount of data for an extortionate amount of money from a mobile network provider like AT&T. But wouldn’t it be great if there was a magical solution to your woes? Well, there isn’t quite yet. But you can now send as many text-only messages as you like over social media services like WhatsApp, Messenger and Line if you’re using ChatSIM, a nifty new Sim card which allows you to navigate around those pesky roaming charges. For only £12 per year. Yes. £12. Per. Year. So, what’s the catch?

Somebody standing in your well-worn boots really has three options: keep your existing Sim card and pay the usual data roaming fees; get ChatSIM; or get a local Sim card which doesn’t carry the roaming charge. Each has its own pros and cons. There are some real drawbacks to ChatSIM. For one, it’s very limited: it doesn’t allow you to browse Facebook or anything like that. You can only send messages comprised of text. Moreover, it uses a bizarre “credits” system which has been the cause of a lot of confusion amongst customers. As Geoffrey Morrison wrote in a Forbes review, “You have no way of knowing if “2000 credits” is equal to 200 megabytes, 20, or 2.”  He claims it could be a sneaky means to cover-up the fact that you may be using more data than you realise, or even a means for ChatSIM to increase its rates under the radar – wielding its confusing payment methods like dazzle camouflage on HMS Extra Fees.

Boating analogies aside, it’s not like the service hasn’t got pro-points. Significant ones, in fact. If you’re looking for a cheap way to message home and communicate with parents, this is great. But are you really going to need this for a whole year? Let alone two or three? The whole point of this trek was to expand your mind and try new things, right? Surely if you want to contact your new friends in-country or folks back home you could just buy a local Sim card and save yourself the hassle. 

Well, yes and no. That would be a great idea if you already had a good understanding of the deals available overseas - which one’s best for you, which will actually give you data and let you get on social media, etc. And that’s not to mention the potential language barrier, as well as the fact that you might be travelling across multiple borders. ChatSIM at the very least allows you to avoid that hassle, and does give you a safe, dependable, Eurocentric means of getting around. If you want a reliable, rugged means of contacting home, ChatSIM is a good bet. And perhaps that’s why it’s the best option for gap yuh travel: it gives you a little bit of arm’s-length distance from your host country, you’re pretty much guaranteed an uninterrupted contact channel with your folks, and besides, it’s just easier – your phone is probably the least of your worries, and you’ve got a lot of map reading to do. It’s all great. As long as you don’t mind having to give the ChatSIM company a copy of your photo ID as a prerequisite for using the darned thing. Yikes, now that’s overprotective parenting!


CNN
As social media's prevalence across the world increases, we're getting used to seeing hardships, disasters and, indeed, wars being filtered through them, and Twitter is particularly notorious for this. Perhaps because it's the most accessible, or the most directly linked to news reporting, people have used it to broadcast information about events as they unfold more than any other platform. Aleppo is no exception.


It's been confirmed that a ceasefire has now been reached in the war ravaged Syrian city, but in the run up to this decision, Syrian military forces closed in on rebel-held bunkers and regions throughout the city, with thousands of civilians still caught in the crossfire. As the combat intensified, many people decided to use Twitter to broadcast messages for their friends and families, messages which inevitably ended up reaching a far wider audience.

Some messages addressed the intended recipients directly, while others commented more broadly on everything that's been happening in Aleppo, and Syria at large. For some it's a new way of making their voices heard, but many have been at it for months, it's only over the past few days that the tweets have been brought to wider attention by the media.


The UN have reported that 82 civilians have died at the hands of the pro-Assad forces which have stormed the city, aided by Russia, who have been sending in air strikes. People have caught in explosions, killed by crossfire or just shot on sight in their homes.

Many are using Twitter to appeal to Western leaders directly, but the most repeated sentiment being expressed is this - people genuinely do not know if they will survive this. It's deeply harrowing, and this is a very new, very direct way to view it from an outside perspective. Throughout the Syrian conflict, information has been manipulated by the media to lead us in one direction or another, but this Twitter activity is free from bias, and it sends a clear message - innocent people are scared, trapped, and dying, and nothing is being done.


Many are calling for a 'humanitarian corridor' which would allow civilians safe passage out, and aid in. Since the ceasefire, negotiations on that count seem to have dried up, and it's unclear at this stage whether the pro-Assad are still raiding homes, or how long it will be before the fighting starts again.

The government have claimed that civilians are free to enter safe zones held by them throughout the city, but many refuse to do so for fear of being imprisoned, tortured or killed.

Venture Beat
The more this whole avatar obsession gains ground, the more I release how right Nintendo had it with the Mii approach. The further back from realism it lurks, the better. The wider tech world doesn't seem to have gotten that particular memo, almost as if they've never heard the term 'uncanny valley' before. As VR has progressed, more and more advanced approaches to avatar building have been undertaken, and now we appear to have reached peak freakish.

Introducing Loom.ia, a start-up who have figured out how to create avatars based on only one selfie, and with pretty staggering realism. It was developed with the aid of DreamWorks and Lucasfilm, both of whom usually specialise in computer effects for movies. Alongside their contributions, the system also relies on machine learning and 'computer vision', which is what you call digital image analysis if people avoid talking to you at parties.

Effectively what this does is to boil down a process which typically requires a studio, an array of camera equipment and a human head into one which only needs one selfie. Undeniably impressive, but one still struggles to understand exactly why we would need such creepily realistic avatars.



Well, I say realistic, the system still struggles with things like hair and teeth, but typically in CG those are some of the most difficult to get right. You only need look at the character creation systems in games like Skyrim to understand why that is. For some reason in this instance it automatically adds the same blocky hair even if the subject in question doesn't have any.

Facebook are particularly interested in this technology because they want the avatars which inhabit their VR realms to react and emote realistically, in order to create a more believable environment. If you ask me, trying to narrow the gap between virtual reality and the regular kind of reality is a fool's errand, especially since none of us really know how prevalent VR will actually become.

Nobody has really figured out a way of making it universally applicable yet, and that will need to happen in order for Facebook's lofty ambitions to be met. There's no point in spending billions advancing a system which will never be more than a toy for rich people, only to fade away when the novelty wears off.

AddThis
Facebook glitches are often odd, but they seem to have been following an even more bizarre curve than usual recently. A few weeks ago it decided that most of the userbase was dead, and now it's dredging up the past.

Thanks to the 'Share your Memories' function, it's easier than ever to find out what you were doing on a particular day a year, two years, three years or even longer ago. In my experience, it's mostly about either heading out or having a hangover. I used Facebook a lot while I was at university. I did little else at university.

It seems that last Friday, that function decided to start finding and sharing old posts without any input from the actual person. Twitter buzzed with reports from people who had experienced this, seeing photographs and status updates from years past being reshared.

That might sound harmless, but similarly to my alcohol-oriented Facebook habits, some past posts could be embarrassing, or serve as reminders of something you'd rather forget. More recently, people have largely become more guarded in their approach to Facebook posting, more inclined to share links or, yes, share memories than post a ranting status update complaining about their boss/teacher/parent/sibling.

From 2006 until around 2010, Facebook was the realm of the overshare. People posted unabashedly about anything and everything, unaware of what we know now - that your social media activity can, and will come back to haunt you. Like say if the platform flips out and starts resharing all your old posts.

The glitch only happened on the iOS app, but that's still the most commonly used mobile version of the app, so a lot of people got caught up in it. Some reported that Facebook had even deleted some of their images and unfriended a few random people. Facebook have yet to comment on the issue, but it certainly looks like they've lapsed from suggested nostalgia to forced nostalgia. Some of us prefer to live in the now, Facebook.


The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), a UK children's charity, reveals that 18,778 children from ages 11 to 18 went to hospital for self-harm this past year. A 14% increase from last year's figure, 16,416, hints at a societal change. Childline helpline, a service run by the NSPCC, has shown that about 50 children a day are in need of counselling about self-harm. Teenagers between ages 13 to 17 are most likely to be hospitalizsd for various methods of self-injury, like cutting, pill overdosing, or self-inflicted burns.

Peter Wanless, chief executive at NSPCC, said that the overwhelming majority of these children are plagued by the need to "keep up with friends" on social media, unable to switch off their smartphones for fear of irrelevance. Speaking of the potential harm related to social media, Wanless said, "It is vital we confront the fact that an increasing number are struggling to deal with the pressures and demands of modern-day life, to such an extent they are inflicting terrible damage upon themselves."

For people aged older than 18, technology, while an integral part of daily life, is not quite as all-consuming as it is for young people: "We know this unhappiness is partly due to the constant pressure they feel, particularly from social media, to have the perfect life or attain a certain image which is often unrealistic. They tell us that the need to keep up with friends and the 24/7 nature of technology means they feel they can never escape or switch off, adding to the misery that many feel on a daily basis."

An NHS report from this year warned that social media was partly responsible for worsening mental health states for girls and young women. Since the last study, dated 2007, there has been a 21% increase in reported symptoms of common mental health conditions. Clearly, a drastic change has taken place in the past eight years: people have morphed into selfie-obsessed, carbon copies of perfection and happiness. We live in a society where Instagram accounts breed models and @homesquats is the gym-goers' #fitspo.

As a supplement to their findings, the NHS touted the need for better resources to help children deal with mental health issues tied to social media. Dr Max Davie of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health offered his adjoining insight: "One way of providing this early intervention is for all schools to deliver comprehensive ... education, teaching children about emotional well-being and addressing challenging mental health issues such as eating disorders, self-harm and suicide."

In addition to the demands meted out by modern day life, Dr Jon Goldin, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and spokesman for the college, believes that the sexualisation of children in the media attributes to issue, "There are a lot of pressures on children. It is not easy being a child these days. In some ways children are encouraged to grow up too fast."

And yet ...


A study conducted in Australia by the University of Melbourne and Monash University cross-examined 70 studies, focusing specifically on the relationship between social networking and depression, anxiety and well-being. Shockingly discordant with the NPCC's findings, Australian researchers discovered that social networks provide a channel over which people can connect with others and receive social support, especially useful for those who find face-to-face interactions difficult to navigate. Inspiring a sense of connectedness and belonging, social media does not hinder all.

Though, realistically, the aforementioned positive byproduct of social media is but a silver lining. The study also found that, unsurprisingly, social media did not benefit people who compared themselves to others, posted negative thoughts, or were addicted to social media; those people were found to be at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Peggy Kern, leader of the study from the University of Melbourne, said that people suffering from social anxiety were passive browsers on social media, abstaining from direct engagement with others. Those with depressive symptoms were given away by their overall negative posts.

"Social media provides not only a window into the thoughts and emotions that people choose to share, but also some of their behavioural patterns that may help or hinder mental health," said Kern.

In the Melbourne University magazine Pursuit, Kern further expands on the findings: "Across the studies, it appears that it's not so much that social media causes anxiety and depression, but that people have different ways of using social media, which may be more or less helpful." Those who actively compare their lives to others, "social comparison," are likely to be saddened when seeing another's vacation pictures on Facebook or touring a new home on a YouTube walkthrough whereas a relatively happy person will use social media as a tool to connect.


When it comes to down time, I'm perfectly happy to place my phone in a removed location and enjoy a temporary respite from the social realm. However, the age of technology has consumed the young. Subtle shifts indicate a turning tide on the world stage as we balance on the brink of a new age. Wearable tech and virtual reality hint towards a future not unlike the one portrayed by Ernest Cline's Ready Player One (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it). Older surveyors must find a way to ease the transition into the digital era ... and hop on board if we can.

Jezebel
We all remember Free the Nipple, the ingenious project which saw women photoshopping male nipples over their own to highlight the ridiculous double standards on censorship displayed by both Instagram and Facebook. Though laudable it was, it ultimately didn't end up making much different. Women's nipples remain as oppressed as ever on both platforms.

Well, they now have a new ambassador in the shape of Genderless Nipples, an Instagram account dedicated to posting images of nipples so close up that it's basically impossible to tell whether they belong to a boob or a man-boob. It's not a particularly pleasant thing to look at, but it sure as hell gets the point across.

The account was actually set up during the presidential election, hoping to be beacon of equality amidst all the deplorable misogyny levied against Hillary Clinton and basically anyone who vocally supported her. Given the way it turned out, the account probably still has plenty of reasons to stick around. Championing nipple equality might not seem like much, but give a few more years and we might even reach complete torso equality, imagine that.

The real question is, have Instagram taken any of the photos down? Yes, to date they have removed one, and apparently the nipple in question actually belonged to a man. Seems like Instagram have done the page's job for them a little bit there.

The best thing about the whole account has to be the captions, though. Each image comes with one, and they are often as amusing as they are poetic, "my nipple isn't sexual, your thoughts are" is a personal favourite. The only way Instagram could hope to properly address this would be to just erase the entire site, something which only usually happens in the most severe cases. Something tells me that they won't take such extreme measures, and by that very notion, the tides of the nipple war may have turned. That is one of the strangest things I have ever typed, enjoy it.


In the wake of the astonishing results of 2016 U.S. presidential election, David Byttow, co-founder of anonymous sharing app Secret, vowed that the formerly defunct app would return. He tweeted his solemn vow five days after Donald Trump was elected.


The revival, IO, was launched on Thursday morning, and it looks nothing like Secret. Actually, it bears a striking resemblance to a blank page (see above). Unlike Secret which functioned as a social network without profiles, IO operates more or less as a blogging platform. The project was undertaken by a team supervised by Byttow who also shouldered all finanacial funding. Byttow's project was entrusted to a team rather than taken on by himself because of the founder's other time investment, namely Bold. A startup launched by Byttow as a content creation service for enterprises, Bold provides the trunk URL for IO.

Initially, as many new projects do, IO went to Product Hunt to be reviewed and rated by the community. By and large, the comments are positive, responding well to the uncluttered layout and simple operation.

To use IO, just start typing. You can add a Twitter account and a name if desired; however, those can be left out to establish an anonymous post. Once finished, hitting publish will leave you with a shareable link. Editing options include, for the moment, markdown, export, images, hyperlinks, even a couple handy writer's tools. Hemingway is a tool to help with writing: "The Hemingway assistant helps you write like Ernest Hemingway himself by highlighting unnecessary adverbs and the use of passive voice or overly complex words. In short, it helps you keep your posts simple and direct." Ambient sounds are available on-site at the touch of a button, featuring sounds like a cafe in Paris, a relaxing storm, a beach bonfire, an enchanted forest, Hogwarts Library (that alone may convert me to IO), and Castle Black.





Unfortunately for the team responsible for IO's creation, this same concept was just recently launched by encrypted messaging service Telegram in the form of Telegraph. Telegraph isn't quite as finished a product as IO, but it bears an eerily similar format. Someone may want to look into that.

Twitter
We all love the mannequin challenge, it's surely one of the most amusing social media trends in recent memory, appealling to everyone from prison inmates to swimmers to extreme sports journalists. Half the fun is figuring out exactly what kind of scene you're going to create, and the rule of thumb tends to be the more dramatic, the better.

That was probably the mindset of a group of Huntsville Alabama residents when they posted their effort about a month ago. It depicted around 20 individuals locked in a vicious shootout, and yes, every gun which appears in the video is real. The video racked up more than 85,000 shares since it went live, but it ended up attracting a very particular sort of attention.


The local police department saw it, and then used the house in the footage to pin down where it was filmed. Before long, they had a warrant, and on Tuesday they raided the property, finding several unlicensed firearms, including an assault rife, as well as a tactical vest, a load of ammunition and a few bags of weed.

Two arrests have been made so far, but no word on pleas or charges. That's not really important though, the thing to focus on is that a police raid was conducted based on evidence presented in a goddamn mannequin challenge. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry. Everyone who appeared in the video is under investigation, so more arrests may soon follow.

If there's one thing to take away from this (other than steering clear of unlicensed weapons), it's that, apparently, any Facebook video is fair game for police investigation, so if you are feeling minded to flaunt some illegal weaponry online, or anything else which might get Johnny Law's attention, perhaps don't share it on Facebook, or map it to a social media trend almost guaranteed to bring in a hefty share count.

IndieWire
Facebook and YouTube have jointly inaugurated the round-up of nostalgia-fest 2016 with what are, quite fittingly, 'member berries of their own. Each platform has launched its own video feature taking a look back over the past twelve months. Facebook has given us each a personalised video entitled 'Your Year in Review', whilst YouTube has launched a centralised presentation called 'YouTube Rewind: The Ultimate 2016 Challenge.' Facebook also quietly sent out a bonus blog post recapping the year's 'most talked-about global topics' (the top being the US Presidential Election) and, for the first time, the biggest Facebook Live videos of the year (with Chewbacca Mom coming in first by a long way).

Personally, I don't usually like these things; and it's not just because my Facebook highlights have previously included, no kidding, a screenshot of an essay I posted to my History class. But crippling social awkwardness aside, let's keep an open mind.

Facebook's Year in Review welcome screen - img: Fox8
Facebook's offering will take us on a trip through a few of our most-liked photos and posts in a solar-system-themed sojourn around a circular white table top. We begin with our profile picture on the flat side of a hemispherical light, the reverse of which describes the year as 'another trip around the sun' (written in font which looks oddly matter-of-fact in its surroundings). As the camera, looking inwards, pans clockwise around the large (somewhat cold) space, we're accompanied by various emojis and an upbeat tune. It's like being in Little Big Planet all over again; except a strangely less welcoming version, despite the smiley faces (although again, that's probably because my profile's not all that fun).

As we progress, the colours will turn from a light morning blue to glowing pink-red, with arty-looking balls printed with a Facebook thumb rolling into a glass-fronted pit, representing the number of likes we've given out this year. My total is 337, apparently (almost one per day!). Finally, we pan upwards, over the large white platform and a couple of gurning yellow emojis to end with a shot of our profile picture, surrounded by images of our very best friends; which promptly fall over backwards to reveal themselves in a domino effect started, quite obviously, by our own magnificence, radiating outward like the heat from the prodigal suns that we are (yes, we've made it: centre of the social system at long last).

The feature's OK, but it could use a bit more heart. Let's move on to YouTube for a little more optimism. The seven-minute video begins with Dwayne Johnson bringing back the bright bum-bag and pulling out a big, red rewind button. 'Bring it,' he says.

OK, this one's quite funny.

TenEighty
YouTube Rewind has changed a lot since it started in 2010; from a relatively humble top-ten of the best videos of the year to a whole song-and-dance capable of gathering 50 million views in a day. Overlaid with a really catchy mash-up of the biggest pop songs of the year by The Hood Internet, to which Major Lazer added the remix treatment for a seamless meld of hips and hops, the soundtrack for this feature is way more uplifting than Facebook's offering.

NDTV
As we progress though a world-spanning video, things are pretty hyperactive from the word go. A boatload of the biggest stars of the year, each paying homage to one another's videos, appear along the way. Riding on the back of a beguiling beat, we glide through the pastiche pastry of melodies and memes and, of course, appearances from over 200 of the most popular video stars of the YouTube year. It finally ends with Smithy-turned-Stewart James Corden guiding us along a cooled-down Carpool Karaoke compilation.

Oh, and did I mention? There's a bunch of Easter Eggs in the video, too: but you have to hover your mouse over the screen and catch the little annotation boxes once they pop up (hint: the first one's right at the beginning, over The Rock's risible red bag).

With tributes to everything from Bowie to the bottle-flip (which I had to watch again because it's just so funny), I think this one's actually pretty good. It's a little bit hollow, admittedly, but it's also quite fun; I defy anybody who's been visiting /r/youtubehaiku to keep a straight face during the video.

Engadget
Overall, it's a mixed start to the recap season. YouTube's offering is very strong in comparison to Facebook's; but they are, after all, the video specialists. Facebook does its job of keeping the brand relevant during the festivities; but I still think it's a little too impersonal or me. Nevertheless, just as the site's friendship celebrations can often fall short in terms of quality content (algorythmically-generated as they are), they're still hugely popular features of our newsfeeds. There's little reason to think the same won't be the case this week as people discover their 2016 round-ups. Lord help us all...



Have you ever looked a comment thread on Facebook and thought '"man, I wish I could see all this unfolding in real time."? Me either, but it seems like someone must have been clamouring for it, because that's what Facebook appear to be doing.

Some users have noticed that when someone else comments on their post, replies to their comment on a post or tags them in a comment, a kind of real time chat box appears, turning the comment thread in question into a kind of chaotic group chat. The idea is to turn threads into a more chatty, free-flowing experience which makes it easier to actively converse with people.

TechCrunch

If you're thinking that having boxes pop up constantly could be a bit of a pain in the neck, Facebook have addressed that concern, sort of. If someone comments on a thread you were already commenting on, it just comes up as a minimised box, which basically means that it will only marginally annoy you, rather than really annoying you.

The other issue with this is that comment tagging isn't often an actual conversation starter. At the moment, it's mostly just 'tag a mate who looks like this expired sausage', or 'tag a mate so they have to stare at this picture of a slightly used ladle'. I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly gassed about the idea of having those notifications suddenly transform into chat boxes, even if it does make it marginally easier to tell the friend in question where they can stick it.

Obviously, the mentality behind this is to stimulate discussion where it actually applies - news story threads and such like - but that of course assumes that the kind of talk which appears on those threads is reasoned and civil. In my experience, it tends to be the exact opposite. This seems like it would be far more useful as an opt-in feature, rather than a standard issue one, but since it's still in the testing phase the feedback Facebook get may well prompt them to do exactly that.

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