January 2016

One of the biggest problems with online, or any kind of text-based communication is that it's very difficult to convey tone. There are workarounds, changes in phrasing, an increase in bluntness and of course, emojis, but some things are still very difficult to convey accurately, and sarcasm is certainly one of them.

Through platforms like Twitter and Reddit, a certain style of writing has developed which behaves like a written cousin to the so-called lowest form of wit, well enough for people to recognise it when they see it, but what about computers? Two researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, David Bamman and Noah A. Smith, have just published a paper entitled 'Contextualised Sarcasm Detection on Twitter', sharing the results of a system of computerised sarcasm detection they created, using tweets as a framework.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise, Twitter has become such a reactionary medium that it's now a hotbed of dry wit and mockery, more so than any other social media platform. Bamman and Smith used a number of different factors, from particular keywords to a seemingly misplaced 'lol' to hyperbole. They also, of course, included #sarcasm, although if you ask me, anyone who drops that hashtag should immediately be discounted, since declaring that you're being sarcastic kind of defeats the entire purpose, just ask Homer.

In terms of keywords, they looked for things like 'dare', 'shocked', 'clearly' and 'gasp' and for hyperbole they made sure that it highlighted intensifiers like 'really', 'so' and 'very'. Beyond phrasing, there were other factors that played into it, like location (sarcasm is more prevalent in some parts of the world than others), as well as age demographic. Presumably anyone anyone who fell with in the generation X age bracket had a Twitter account brimming with sarcasm (yep, two Simpsons clips in one article, you're welcome).

Using these parameters, they managed to get the computer to detect sarcasm with an impressive 85% success rate. The question you might be asking yourself now is - what's the point of all this? Well, primarily, it falls under the Turing test umbrella, enabling computers to understand and replicate human communication, but beyond that, it could potentially make the filtering of social media posts that much more effective, recognising the difference between a harmless joke between friends and legitimate verbal abuse. That's so amazing, oh my god, wow.

The State Press
Twitter are making the news again, this time for taking away the verification tick of Right Wing journalist Milo Yiannopoulos on Friday.

His account was de-verified for having broken the website's strict policies on hate-speech, but he was not informed which tweet caused the issue. What's interesting is that this seems to be being handled very differently to how Twitter's new guidelines laid things out. Rather than being suspended and given the chance for the offensive tweets to be deleted, he's just lost a little tick by his name.

Without knowing what exactly Yiannopoulos is in trouble for, it's difficult to say whether Twitter were in the right or the wrong. It does seem strange that he has been unverified for something unknown and that people like Donald Trump are still getting away with it but without more information there isn’t much to say.

I’m not going to go into the fact of whether Milo Yiannopoulos deserved to get in trouble or not. You can go through his Twitter and decide for yourselves but it is clear that Twitter did not expect the reaction that this action has received.

There have been many articles over the weekend on the matter, two of which have gotten the strongest responses. The people at Re/Code have had to edit their articles due to missing facts and The Huffington Post has gotten a lot of backlash for celebrating the fact Yiannopoulos has been de-verified.

Losing that tick has gotten Yiannopoulous a lot more attention then he'd had before with the #JeSuisMilo tag having been trending over the weekend and 20,000 new followers. De-verifying his account has done nothing more than feed the flames and prove that Twitter are perhaps policing the site in the wrong way. Removing a user or de-verifying them should be fine but they should at least share the reason why. Yes, people might not always agree with them but then at least they're being clear which is all Yiannopoulous himself wants right now.

Unfortunately all of this has only contributed to the spread of hate on the platform. As no one knows why he was de-verified or who reported him it's the staff of Twitter who need to be spoken to, but in a polite manner. We don’t want someone who didn’t deserve to be punished to suffer but no one can say whether the punishment fits when Twitter isn’t being open about this.

Tech Crunch/Snapchat
It feels like only yesterday that Snapchat introduced their lense feature and it completely blew up. Back in November, as well as the free lenses that users could choose from each day, they opened up a virtual store where they could choose from 30 more lenses that sold at $.99 each. This was obviously Snapchat's attempt to make money seeing as the app was otherwise completely free. And now, on January 8th, the store is about to shut down.

Shortly after the introduction of the store, Snapchat also introduced promotional lenses. They were free just like the regular lenses but they would promote something, for example, the lenses for the Peanuts Movie. To some people these would have been more tempting as they were free, but the idea that Snapchat was using their pictures to advertise may have put some people off.

With the store being shut down, Snapchat are liable to release more promotional lenses and they'll probably make more money out of those then they ever did at the store.

This all being said, if you have brought any of the lenses from the store, then you will get to keep them. The paid-to-use lenses aren't disappearing completely but they will be for some time until they're introduced into the free selection.

Snapchat will also continue to release more lenses in general and not just the promotional ones so there may well be some fun to still be had, if you still use them that is. The lenses remain a technological feat and good idea for people who send a lot of selfies but don't always have the inspiration to make them a little more interesting. Snapchat were very clever with introducing them but that doesn't mean they were a something to try and make money from.

The lense store only lasted a few months and in my experience people are using the lenses less by now. So this could simply be Snapchat trying to backtrack on their attempt to make money and encourage more users to continue to use the lenses. Whether that will actually work or not is a different story.

Instagram introduced their answer to Snapchat's Live Stories late last year and used it in much a similar fashion to share compilation videos of users' holiday content and so on. However, the increase in popularity has meant that Instagram have decided to make it a regular thing.

The video player found in the Explore tab will now share the top videos that fit the daily theme, as picked out by the Instagram community team. Part of the inspiration for this is to encourage more people to use the site's video feature. Since it's introduction the video feature has often seemed to not be particularly worthwhile. If people wanted to sit and watch short videos then why not go on Vine, not to mention the fact that a lot of people use Instagram in public with their phone on mute. There's little point in watching a short video if you have to hunt down your earphones. Now though, the Spotlight will show people a slideshow of video clips, giving viewers more to watch and much more of a reason to plug those earphones in or go somewhere quiet.

It'll also give users more of a reason to record video in the first place. Most people still use Instagram purely for photos, but if they want the opportunity to be seen as one of the best and find new followers, then they'll want to record video, and something good at that. This isn't a site to show your clips of someone falling over, but if you have a clip of yourself skateboarding or maybe your pets then who knows the sort of following you might gain.

As this feature isn't for any monetary gain it seems like it's quite simply just a way to keep the platform fresh. Sharing videos and photos on the same platform makes total sense and the new Spotlight feature will allow this to encourage more social interaction. Of course you're more likely to see celebrity and internet famous people's videos to start with but as time goes on the Spotlight could introduce some new users and trends to us all.

Unfortunately this feature is currently only available to US users but I look forward to seeing it rolling out to the rest of the world soon.

Oh dear, Facebook just cannot seem to convince people that their efforts to bring free internet to the masses have virtuous motivations. Over the course of the past month or two, their new 'Free Basics' service, a rudimentary form of internet access that comes free of charge and purports to help more people go online has been rolled out in India and a number of other countries. If first impressions are anything to go by, none of them want anything to do with it anymore.

The service offers a limited set of websites and apps in a kind of 'internet-lite', supposedly in the hopes of ushering in increased connectivity in nations that are really in need of it. On December 30th, the service was shut down in Egypt. It's unclear exactly why it's been pulled there, Facebook is actually fairly popular in Egypt, and it was instrumental in the organisation of demonstrations during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Elsewhere however, the reasoning for opposition is abundantly clear. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India have been taking measures to have Free Basics temporarily suspended there, in the wake of massive opposition from the public and many Indian tech firms and start-ups. Why, you ask? Net neutrality. Despite the overwhelming need for strengthened connectivity in India, the fact remains that Free Basics is internet access on Facebook's terms, they decide what you can access.

Mark Zuckerberg has been doing all he can to counteract this wave of negative criticism. A few months ago he took part in a public interview with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and in the wake of this latest backlash, he published an op-ed in the Times of India, making the case for Free Basics. In it, he makes the point that 30 countries still use the service, and that it represents a first step towards wider, all-encompassing internet access.


Beyond this, Facebook have also unleashed a barrage of advertising across the nation, with magazine ads and posters extolling the virtues of Free Basics. Sadly for them, that has backfired too, as a Reddit user decided to rework the text in the ads to feature some rather severe, but warranted criticisms of the whole thing. It's amusing, but it also aptly demonstrates the fact that Facebook are not directly addressing their critics, they're merely drawing a circle around them. As previously stated, Free Basics is running without issue in around 30 countries outside of India and Egypt, but the former remains their number 1 target, and at present, their attack strategy simply is not working.

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