October 2016

Digital Trends
Think back to 1999 when emoji were first brought to mobile devices. Chances are you don't remember the original emoji, cutesy, minimal versions of the visual language of today. A few of them remind me of the item icons from Paper Mario 64, particularly the snowman, lightning bolt, and swirl (check the second grouping below to compare).

The sprite-like primordial emoji-spawn were created by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita for NTT Docomo, a telecommunications company in Japan. Kurita's original set consists of 176 characters, the most basic of symbols that we've come to associate with the special keyboard on our phones. At first the emoji were simply black and white, but after a few years, six colours were added: black, red, orange, lilac, grass green, and royal blue. In our emoji-filled world, it's difficult to quantify exactly how many emoji we have access to considering that some variations are only available on certain phones/platforms/etc. However, with the inclusion of the latest batch of emoji (refer to Unicode 9.0), there are a whopping 1,851. Quite an improvement upon Kurita's original set.

New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has recognised that emoji language was born with Kurita. On 26 October, MoMA added the original set of emojis to its collection. To mark the occasion, the museum will be opening an installation in December to fully delve into emoji beginnings and offer a new look at classic favourites.

MoMA's Paul Galloway wrote a piece explaining the history and significance of emoji. In it, he says, "Filling in for body language, emoticons, kaomoji, and emoji reassert the human in the deeply impersonal, abstract space of electronic communication." As a society, we learn to exist within preexisting parameters, "The design of a chair dictates our posture; so, too, does the format of electronic communication shape our voice."

NTT Docomo marked their place at the forefront of innovation by bringing imagery to early mobile technology, sourcing manga, symbol languages, and basic emoticons to create a popular set of images. By tailoring images to 12 x 12 pixels, the telecommunications company pushed the era of a global, visual language into existence.

Paul Galloway's Piece
Originally, the emoji were made to display on NTT Docomo pagers, accounting for their blocky appearance. Kurita's iconic symbols were used to connect with potential customers through the spread of information. For example, the weather-related emoji were used to deliver weather reports whereas the hamburger, martini glass, and high heel were used in advertising local businesses. Inserting an emoji along with a business name clarified what a customer could expect.

From EmojiCon to the Unicode Emoji Subcommitte to lengthy-but-accurate emoji stories, this new form of communication has been embraced with open arms and willing souls. If you are attending EmojiCon in San Francisco, MoMA's Paul Galloway will be a guest speaker! Don't miss him.

Facebook Newsroom
I can't quite believe we're back in this depressing valley of blue-tinted plagiarism yet again. As if it wasn't enough to outfit WhatsApp with the ability to draw and write on pictures, or unveil a completely new version of Messenger based around ephemeral picture messaging, Facebook have thieved yet another idea from Snapchat. Mark Zuckerberg is looking more and more like Jesse Eisenberg with each passing day.

'Masks' are an augmented reality feature which pastes a digital 'mask' over your own face when you take a selfie, in almost exactly the same way that Snapchat's lenses do. Currently, they're all Halloween themed, and given that we've seen man-makeup, zombie faces and rainbow vomit from the yellow side of the pitch, the options on offer here look decidedly less imaginative. You get a pumpkin, a witch, a skeleton, and a few more less festive but no less generic options.

The difference is, rather than photo messaging, Masks are activated when you're posting a live video through the main Facebook app, but only on iOS in the US, UK and New Zealand for the time being. The Android/more global launch will be some time in the next couple of months.

They were developed by MSQRD, a start-up which Facebook picked up back in March, but hadn't really done anything concrete with until now. I don't think I have to remind anyone that this is a play by Facebook to pull in a younger crowd, as statistics suggest that more millennials are leaving Facebook behind each month, and even those that stay only do so out of necessity. Heaven forbid they might come up with a few genuinely original ideas to keep the young crowd interested.

Again, the fact that it's on Live is the key difference that Facebook are trying to capitalise on. The Halloween-themed wider release suggests that they're hoping everyone will enjoy making scary faces at each other so much that they adopt Masks as a regular part of their live streaming shenanigans. In either case, I doubt Snapchat are losing any sleep over it.

Business Insider
Pinterest has a sleek new HQ building in San Francisco which is perfectly suited to the company's present trajectory. Earlier this year, the image-sharing site overhauled its layout, moving to a cleaner, sleeker user interface. Now, that same shift is being allegorised by a gigantic staircase which spirals upward four floors and provides the centrepiece for the company's new San Francisco head office. The building used to be a John Deere factory, an American manufacturer best known for making huge pieces of agricultural machinery. As the company's designers explained to Business Insider, the staircase is "awash in white space and gets you to where you're going faster." As a whole, the building is colder, sharper, more business-like. But if this mega-unicorn is shaking-off its old horseshoes, it looks like they won't be coming off all at once.

Lounge and bar in the old HQ - img src: Business Insider
The old HQ was characterised by a hearty dash of that particular branded chaos - controlled, clean, held back to arm's length - which renders hipsters drooling for more. The security desk was a motor car; real vegetation sprouted from and old suitcase and bicycles; coloured yarn (that's American for 'string') was coiled about, running around seating areas and hugging structural beams. (There's a full tour of the offices here) It had all the penchants of a young, fresh enterprise: a brave look, new ideas and bags of creativity. You also got the sense of acumen, quality and professionalism: beneath the warm and cosy appearance, you knew that a lot of hard work built that place. I mean, think of the rent! But as times are changing, so too are looks: and as the company's new venture follows the pull of the current, perhaps we should think of it as a branded new chapter in the grand catalogue of Pinterest's overall accomplishments.

The New HQ, exterior - image source: Business Insider
The architecture practice behind the new offices, IwamotoScott, has also been responsible for some very cool building designs during the 2010's. From the outside, the look has moved from arts and crafts to minimalism: the dilapidated chic that was Sodosopa (sorry, I mean the old office) has been replaced by a large, rectangular shoe box, with plenty of big windows and a few paperclip things on the top corners. The whole thing hangs like a post on a cork board: it doesn't forget the company's roots (come on, it's an artsy refurbishment of an old factory - how hipster can you get?). But it's sharper, more restrained than before - perhaps more joyless, but also more grown-up.

That's the image the company is projecting anyway; and it's not just because of the new site layout. The company itself was valued at $11 billion last year, after which it began expanding into even more office properties in San Francisco. Incidentally, check out Pando or Investopedia for an explanation of how Pinterest got to such dizzying heights without really making any money (essentially, it's all about what it could potentially make were it to branch out into revenue generation in earnest).

Employees have taken it upon themselves to add a little charm, installing these quirky wall flowers to a lounge area. image source: Business Insider
Frank Gehry-ish, anyone? - img src: Business Insider
Overall, then, the new offices look a lot like the company itself. Which makes sense. And perhaps they imply the enduring desire to keep the show on the road for growth - I mean, if you squint hard, parts of it kind of look like the inside of a Frank Gehry studio... you know, before the buildings are finished and all that. But far be it from me, a lowly intern, to aspire so high, I personally wouldn't half mind working there. If only I could draw...

Netflix and RuneScape lovers alike were funneled into the same boat on 21 October when their domain name provider was targeted by a DDoS attack. The attack affected site and service availability for those hosted on Dyn, a company responsible for a large amount of the internet's domain name system infrastructure, including PayPal, Twitter, Reddit, GitHub, Amazon, and Spotify among others. The attack happened around 7 a.m. E.T., disabling website addresses assigned by Dyn.

The perpetrators carried out their attacks in three waves. After the initial attack, Dyn increased their security measures, lessening the impact of the following waves on their DNS. A portion of the attack originated from a Mirai Command and Control server. Essentially, botnets comprised of Mirai software scout out IoT (Internet of Things) devices using default usernames and passwords, infecting them in order to gain access. Millions of web-enabled, infected devices pummeled the data centers with junk data.

Security firm Flashpoint released an "after-action" analysis of the incident where it concluded that the attacks were likely carried out by amateur hackers. To add to the confusion, some believed that state-sponsored actors perpetrated the attack or that the Russian government was somehow involved. WikiLeaks tweeted that a supporter may be responsible, jokingly we hope.

In their investigation, Flashpoint discovered that the infrastructure used in the attack mirrored the one used against a well-known video game company: "While there does not appear to have been any disruption of service, the targeting of a video game company is less indicative of hacktivists, state-actors, or social justice communities, and aligns more with the hackers that frequent online hacking forums." Writers of the report Allison Nixon, John Costello, and Zach Wikholm have specifically referenced the Hackforums community where commercial DDoS tools, known as booters or stressers, are sold.

Further on, the writers assert that they are moderately confident that the attacks had no financial or political motivation. Instead, since the hackers targeted entertainment and social media, the motivating factors were to "show off, or to cause disruption and chaos for sport." In the past, DDoS attacks launched at gaming companies had no other purpose than to "show off their credentials as hackers of skill, or to 'troll' and gain attention by causing disruption to popular services."

A DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack is one in which multiple compromised systems are infected in order to target a single system, resulting in a DOS (Denial of Service) attack. Various computers and internet connections are used, often distributing data via botnets to overwhelm the target. Having numerous sources makes the attack difficult to stop. The IoT has expanded the terrain over which hackers are able to attack. As everyday devices are able to connect to the internet and each other, things like cell phones, routers, DVRs (digital video recorders), and security cameras can be used to contribute to DDoS attacks via botnets.

For those of us obsessively watching Mr. Robot, the professionalism of Rami Malek's character, an off-the-grid, anonymous master hacker, contrasts sharply to the script kiddies in this latest attack. The term, used a couple times in the show, differentiates between someone who uses existing computer scripts/codes rather than writing their own. For those of you who haven't dived into the series, just imagine watching a reclusive, anonymous hacker in his element. Follow him through a life of tenuous relationships, a master plan, and a psychologically questionable life. You won't be disappointed.

After 4 years of 6 second packages of fun, ridiculousness, pointlessness, narcissism, obscurity, stupidity and everything in between, Vine is no more. Twitter have announced that the Vine is being cut for good, as the video app will be gradually discontinued across platforms over the next few months. Sorry, Batdad, we had a good run.

The website is staying up for the time being, the videos themselves remain downloadable and users will be notified of any changes well ahead of time, but the fact remains that Vine will, soon enough, be gone. It's true that the service has been in decline for a while, but it's hard to think of another video app that's had such a massive, resonant impact on internet culture.

Admittedly, some of the behaviour funnelled through Vine was beyond idiotic, but some of it was comedy gold, and without it we wouldn't have Netflix and chill, and how much fun have we all had with that phrase. Some Vine creators have launched full blown careers off the back of it, and while their ongoing success won't be hindered by the app's demise, there will likely always be an echo of it living through their work.

Part of what made Vine so successful was the simplicity, you had 6 precious seconds to get your idea across, and when you think about it like that, what some people did with such a limited amount of time is amazing. Its death is partly to do with the increasing prevalence of short video posting on other platforms like Facebook and Snapchat, and partly to do with GIFs, live streams and longer videos becoming more the norm.

There's something rather poignant about seeing a moment trapped in a 6 second loop, though. It forces you to observe it from multiple angles, expand it, crystallise it. Sometimes you'd catch yourself staring at a Vine for minutes, completely mesmerised by something which, under other circumstances, might have completely passed you by. So, a fond farewell to Vine, a relic of a simpler time, when everyone was busy being terrified of ancient Mayan prophecies, rather than an oily mound of boiled corn beef with a ridiculous yellow toupee.

Img: readwrite.com
Twitter has recently commenced the testing phase of the final parts of their new rules about character limits. The changes, announced in May, will reduce the amount of entities that push your tweet towards that pesky character cap. The standout removal is @usernames, with these no longer counting, allowing users to pseudo-anonymously flame whole swathes of people whose opinions they mildly disagree with @ one fell swoop.

The development, which has taken on a hashtag following of #beyond140, is a welcome change amongst users. Rumors had the full changes appearing on September the 19th, but these turned out to be just the removal of media such as images, gifs, and videos from the character count. This testing phase marks the full implementation of the changes, and according to TechCrunch has begun to affect sections of live users, with a full scale release coming up in the near future.

The earlier May announcement laid out the character limit changes Twitter were planning:
  • Media attachments like gifs don't count. This came out on September 19th. 
  • @names don't count. The big part of this final update.
  • .@ no longer necessary - tweets that begin with a username now go to everyone, instead of requiring the .@ prefix. Users will now have to retweet replies if they want them to be seen by everyone.
  • You can retweet or quote yourself. I'm sure many Twitter users already find themselves infinitely quotable. Better retweet that low like post for the fifth time, no one saw it! No, it was just bad.

In testing it appears that @usernames not only don't count towards the limit but also don't appear at all. When users click reply, a separate subheading above the text box appears to indicate that this is a reply. You can click the subheading to see exactly who you're replying to, if you'd by any chance forgotten the target of your righteous ire. This also prevents the formation of the notorious Twitter Canoe - a pile-on where more and more retweets take up space until there's only a few characters left. The update should at least prevent you from being stuck up tweet creek without a paddle.
User reactions were generally positive to the changes last time, so we expect the same this time. Some users did manage to poke fun at them, though:

The changes are part of Twitter's ongoing struggles to revitalise the platform after shares have been tumbling following potential buyout collapses. Despite having 313m active monthly users in total, growth in them has been stagnant, and last year Twitter had to lay off 8% of its workforce. Twitter even shifted the release of their latest earnings to 4am PST rather than the usual 1pm, perhaps in a bid to sweep the dirt under the carpet.

There are some innovative ways around the Twitter character limit, but this move towards a slightly less restrictive means of communication without altering the overall tweet format will likely be welcome amongst users. It reflects a willingness by Twitter to adapt to user expectations, in terms of ease of media sharing and convenience of communication with others, that is something Twitter needs right now. Time will tell how drastic this change feels, and whether it will be a significant one. In any case, with Twitter's iconic @usernames almost disappearing, we're definitely @ the end of an era.

Hooch's Vine

Hooper's Hooch, known simply as Hooch, is an alcopop beverage with a storied past replete in nineties British references. Those do escape me, however, I can appreciate the smooth, lemony taste and fun-loving feel of Hooch. So too does Vine celebrity and influencer Joe Charman who was recently drawn into Global Brands owned Hooch's social media push. Along with Charman, Hooch recruited additional Vine fame with Huw Samuel, Leslie Wai, and Stuggy. Refusing to skimp on platforms, Vine, Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube were all given attention over three months.

A regular feature in Hooch advertising, Charman's internet fame  came from a variety of Vines showcasing his mastery of useless tricks and talents, called "I've Got Skills." Charman's popularity has been garnered largely through a younger crowd, thanks to his random finesse and "impressive but pointless" tricks.   
Charman featured in a Hooch advert on Facebook entitled "When its [sic] your round ... Make It a Hooch! #OutrageouslyRefreshing" In it, Charman walks poolside with three bottles of Hooch in hand. He takes a running jump, landing on an inflatable item in the pool which floated across, depositing Charman on the opposite side to his waiting friends. He hands each friend a bottle. Apart from the friends bordering on underage, Charman's antics are far flung from adulthood.

The video, released 10 June 2016, has since been removed after the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) banned it for promoting "juvenile behaviour." Concerned UK advertising watchdogs complained about the ad, stating that because Charman was with young people it breached the code and was "likely to be of particular appeal to under-18s." Additionally, much of Charman's fanbase is made up of young people.

Interestingly, Facebook said that the post did not violate their terms.

In answer to the ban, Global Brands stated that Charman's acts are not feasible for viewers to imitate or mimic as they are "not real or achievable." Simply put, Charman is an entertainer and believes that this much is obvious based on the impossible feats he regularly performs. The ASA asserted that the ad as it is will not be allowed to air. 

Global Brands senior brand manager Christian Sarginson said in a statement that the company was "extremely disappointed" with ASA's decision to keep the ban in place.

Huffington Post
The International Space Station is a fascinating place to keep tabs on, from all the intricate mechanical upkeep to the comings and goings of the astronauts who man it. That in mind, when a Facebook Live video pops up alleging to show said astronauts ambling across the surface, it's kind of a big deal, certainly big enough to go viral.

The video, supposedly showing a space walk across the surface of the station, pulled in more than 2 million likes, and got shared by Unilad, Viral USA and a number of other reputable online publications. The problem? It wasn't real, no actual space walk was being conducted and NASA had no affiliating whatsoever with the video on display.


If such a thing were actually happening, it's a safe bet that NASA would have been actively promoting it, they don't leave this kind of thing open for leaking or any kind of outside distribution. Moreover, a cursory visit to the official ISS website during all this revealed that, in fact, nothing of the sort was actually going on.

As it turned out, the footage had been recycled from a manned mission which took place some 3 years ago. Where exactly this rehashed footage came from originally remains unclear, but in any case, it was soon revealed as BS. Recycling old footage to pull in a few shares is nothing new, but rarely is it attempted in such a blatantly disprovable way, especially on a platform as public as Facebook live. Rest assured, the next time someone on the ISS actually does head out, it will be streamed, and it'll be real.

"Well, well, well, Snapchat and the Channel News team." (image: Vulture)
The hilarious newsman v. newsman battle royale that was the centrepiece to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy pretty much encapsulates how some commentators understand the direction in which the Twitter-Snapchat relationship is heading. Recently, Twitter redefined itself on the App Store, shifting its classification from 'social networking' to 'news' in order to make itself more visible. The idea was, essentially, to become the number one app in a certain field, rather than ranking in the top five or ten. Snapchat, since then, appears to have taken a page from Twitter's playbook, having announced that it's now a camera company, of all things. That would kind of make sense, given its recent launch of Spectacles, which are essentially parent company Snap Inc.'s cheaper alternative to Google Glass... although it's a stretch to say that Snapchat is really going to be more a camera company than a social media service. Google's still a search engine, for example.

But there's a twist: because many - including inside sources, according to a recent Business Insider article - are saying that, really, Snapchat is already laying the groundwork to be not merely a camera company, but 'the "de facto news outlet" for its millennial audience.' That's because Snap Inc. are rolling out job adverts for posts like development managers, charged with producing 'original shows,' and are also planning to purchase original content from other providers. If Snapchat and Twitter are both gunning to be the top news team in town, who's going to come out on top? I think we all know there's only one way to find out...

But wait, let's step back a bit. The person quoted by Business Insider for that 'de facto news outlet' line is only named as 'a source familiar with [Snap Inc.]'s plans.' So... that could be anybody, really. That's not to say they're wrong - it might be there's no smoke without fire - but things are escalating quickly here. While there certainly are solid grounds to suspect a more TV-like experience is coming to Snapchat users, and probably Snap Inc. customers more broadly, let's just hope things don't go too far in that direction. At all costs, we must avoid the precarious scenario in which other social media companies begin claiming the news team turf - we all remember the park scene in Anchorman 2. I don't think I can handle that again.

Facebook and Paypal are continuing to cosy up, and as they stare deep into each other's eyes, they can see the dollar signs flashing. This blossoming relationship is gradually becoming steady, with Messenger now offering Paypal payment for 'next-generation shopping experiences' (buying second-hand crap you don't really need from people in your area) that are 'frictionless' (you don't think about the money you're spending). The last frictionless next-generation shopping experience I had was buying some used brake pads. That didn't end so well.

The details of 'ushering in this new commerce paradigm' (jumping on this new way to make $ - I will continue to translate as necessary) are emerging as follows:
  • Paypal will appear as a payment option on a multitude of Facebook's commerce areas, including in Messenger.
  • Facebook users can easily link their accounts with their Paypal accounts.
  • Paypal customers in the US can get receipts sent to their Messenger inbox to consolidate Paypal communications.

Paypal and Facebook have already been getting through the flirtation stage, with Paypal's Braintree subsidiary partnering with Messenger and Uber to allow users to hail and pay for an Uber within the Messenger app, helping merchants buy ads on Facebook, and helping businesses sell through the shop on their page. This announcement solidifies the bond and marks it as one that will spread until every page has a Paypal pay button and you can tip your friends if they send you a particularly funny meme.

It also accompanies the rise of the chatbots. No, not Robert Downey Jr-voiced AI friends, but rather an automated chat service that lets sellers flaunt their wares through the medium of Messenger. These interactions can already accept user's debit or credit cards, but Paypal are of course keen to step in and skim off their take. Convenience is king, however, and I'm sure most users are happy to use Paypal rather than have to enter their card details into yet another site.

The whole shift follows the increasing trend for social media networks to try and amalgamate more and more features into their arsenal, from finding shows and booking tickets to making drones for their users. Of particular interest to the platforms are those user interactions and transactions with direct financial benefit such as these commercial ones.

Paypal's experience with smoothing this type of transaction and their large user base of 192 million users explains Facebook's willingness to allow the monetary integrations, despite the two previously having a bit of a rivalry. What Paypal stands to gain is clear, with the gates opening to Messenger's user base, which broke 1 billion a while back.

It chimes with Paypal's inexhaustible quest for expansion, announcing deals with 'Visa, MasterCard, Telcel and Claro, Vodafone and Alibaba, in our bid to drive broader customer choice in payments through partnership' (more ways for people to pay us). It appears the blooming relationship is an open one, though, as Facebook has been doing it with others too, garnering deals with Stripe, Visa, MasterCard, and American Express, not just PayPal.

The incessant commercialisation of your inbox is inevitable given how profitable it looks set to be for the payment gatekeepers. Facebook and Paypal's reconciliation shows just how profitable, and indeed it looks like they might be catching feelings for each other. Hope eBay's not getting too jealous.

Don't be ashamed if Lifestage is unfamiliar, it hasn't been heavily publicised, even to its target audience. Since appearing on iOS back in August, Lifestage has been quietly ticking away, a haven for teens who want the Facebook experience, just without the, erm, Facebook part.

As you might expect, its existence largely stems from a desire to muscle Snapchat out of that demographic. It also serves as a testing ground for elements which may later end up being incorporated into Facebook's main body.

Most of Lifestage is just taking pictures of yourself and then doing various funky things with them, up to and including filters and templates. It's neither original, nor particularly intriguing, but with Messenger Day now also doing the rounds, it makes up one part of a larger initiative to woo the teen crowd back into Facebook's pen.

What Lifestage does that Snapchat doesn't do, is effectively guilt-trip you into using it more. When you post an update, you get a sunglasses emoji next to your name, but fail to do so for long enough and you get a frowny face, and eventually a poop emoji. This is meant to encourage more frequent use, but it kind of comes across as a twisted kind of emojional blackmail.

Of course, even if it isn't all that successful (and by deliberately limiting its audience through age-based blocking, it never will be), it's almost more of a research tool than anything else. Facebook are trying to gauge exactly what they should be doing to win teen audiences back around, and if a vapid, throwaway app like this helps, they might as well roll with it.


The term ‘social media’ is about as loaded as they come. Like all powerful technologies (and Anakin Skywalker), it has the potential for both great and terrible things. There are, similarly, things to love and things to hate about ‘the media’ in general. But whilst the latter is perpetually challenged in the public sphere (indeed, there’s a near-endemic anxiety in mainstream newsrooms of the apparently paradoxical lack of their own readers’ trust) the same can’t necessarily be said of the former.

Enter Charlie Brooker, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In a world where people give out personal information left, right and centre, casually and carelessly bemoan little things (making them big), and skim quite unfazed over the most horrendous vituperations for an average of almost two hours per day, the checks and balances which are South Park and Black Mirror are both hilarious and absolutely necessary. More than that, though: they’re actually doing social media a world of good.

Both shows might be considered studies on the power of the crowd and the individual. The current series of South Park (now its twentieth) centre-stages the abuse to which Twitter has habituated us – and subtly, but importantly, our collective reactions to it (namely the chain-reactions of animosity which allowed Kyle’s dad to troll the whole of Denmark last week). It offers people that wholesome spoon of cutting satire couched in a deeper, perhaps surprising, level of coherence with which regular viewers are pretty well-acquainted. Meanwhile, the new series of Black Mirror, launched on Netflix last week, provides a more Foucauldian take on the whole thing, with one episode, ‘Hated in the Nation’, being inspired by Brooker’s own experiences in the public glare. Without giving anything away, it outlines a typically dystopian world wherein Twitter is a vehicle of a gathering, violent storm: the ‘half-hate’ with which the episode deals comes on fast but then ‘drifts-off like the weather.’

National Student

Together, these shows illuminate the prevalence of online abuse with a darkly comic spotlight – particularly so in Brooker’s case, whose take is made all the more cutting by its insistence on talking to the casual, laid-back, perhaps unwitting user than does South Park, which is both characteristically more conspicuous and which appears more critical of hot-headed reactions to trolls than of our supposedly less exceptional interactions online.  

But a word of warning to all you would-be watchers: take these shows with a pinch of salt. It’s important, essentially, not to malign the whole project of social media simply off the back of viewing them. Again, it can do good and bad, depending who’s holding the phone. Naturally, and absolutely for the best, it’s the negatives which are scrutinised most in active discourse. But the passive approval – and benefits this brings – of our simple everyday employment of such services is a tacit legitimisation of that which we’re checking. After all, as a means of organisation, social media is the most effective force out there. The ALS Association would have much emptier coffers without the individuals and groups which made such a boom of the ice bucket challenge. I probably wouldn’t have received the monumental total of 16 birthday messages yesterday without it (thank you again, everyone).So let's only chuck-out the bathwater here. 

That said, and to close where the title began, there’s no way to draw a single, satisfying line under ‘social media’ – it’s a site of our worst and best traits, both collectively and as individuals. It will probably remain as such for a while. But because eternal vigilance is the price of a good, healthy social media sphere (and liberty), I, for one, also watch TV.

Google Play Store
Dehaze, an online tool that curates type- and location-specific hashtags, was released two months ago by developer and photographer Nick Smith. Recently, the application was rebranded as Focalmark and released as an app for Android and iOS. The web application has not been taken offline, but is now operating in conjunction with the app.

Focalmark was created with the avid Instagram user in mind. It makes the mind-numbing task of adding hashtags to photos a little bit easier by providing a bank of hashtags for each category listed in the app. Selecting different categories will yield a paragraph's worth of hashtag gold which can be copied straight from the app. Topping off that charming foodie picture with human-curated hashtags (that you otherwise would not have thought of) will inevitably lead to more likes, follows, and attention. Then, you win Instagram!

To get the most out of Focalmark, you must first understand how to use it. Let's use a portrait for example. If it's a run-of-the-mill selfie, it will fall under a single category; if, however, it is taken in front of an architectural monument, it can be tied to two categories: Portrait and Architecture.

Once the categories are filtered through, the next option is to add location-specific hashtags. If you'd rather not reveal that information, this step can be skipped. Once you've reached the end, a list hashtags relevant to your picture can be copied, opened in Instgram, or you can start the process over. It's that simple.

Upon launch, the beta application was marketed to photographers struggling to find hashtags. Initially, Dehaze had 19 locations and 14 categories. After much research and some feedback, Focalmark was born. With the rebrand, Smith has added 50 additional locations to the app and promised that hashtags will be updated weekly. This means that trending hashtags will get the attention they deserve, hopefully keeping the app and its users relevant.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Napalm Girl' image is just one past victim of Facebook's over-censorship - Img src: Time
Facebook has pledged to adopt a more laissez-faire approach to its management of the images, words and videos posted onto the site by users. A statement released on Friday, penned by Joel Kaplan and Justin Osofsky, addressed the issue of rules and regulations regarding what kind of content is acceptable, bearing in mind Facebook’s desire to uphold a nice, clean, friendly environment. It’s an important time for Facebook in determining its community standards, especially given recent controversies regarding censorship on the site. But how does this media giant compare to other sites in these terms? And what does this new statement really mean for customers? Is it good news, bad news, or not really news at all?

It’s clear why Facebook has released this statement now, surfacing as it does in the wake of recent controversies surrounding the site’s censorship of images. In September, we saw a furore as a clumsy attempt to apply Facebook’s anti-nudity policy in a strictly uniform manner led moderators to repeatedly remove the Pulitzer Prize-winning image ‘Napalm Girl’ from the site. Facebook subsequently apologised and restored the image. But the hot water beckoned again as, just last week, moderators removed an educational video which explained to women how to check for breast cancer. The video represented breasts using pink, cartoon circles. Uproars and apologies once again ensued. So, as a sign of good faith, and surely in an attempt to re-establish control, Facebook sent out the statement on Friday, which reads: “In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest — even if they might otherwise violate our standards.”

That’s the struggle Facebook has, and which it’s now openly talking about: in order to reach a just and legitimate decision in every case regarding whether or not to allow an image on its site, subjectivity needs a place in the application of the rules – but, maybe in equal measure, the rules need to be followed at the same time. Exactly how strictly so is indeed a fine balance; and, as Facebook tells us, it’s something that’s going to ebb and flow with temporal, political, social and regional contexts – because so too do the norms of acceptability therein.

Whatever happens, these problems aren’t going away. If Facebook allowed everything, it would eventually become 4Chan – a terrifying heck hole devoid of human warmth. But they clearly can’t afford to go too far the other way either. As an effort to smooth users’ concerns about the prevalence of Facebook censorship, Friday’s announcement is a good sign, ostensibly at least. But one might also be forgiven for scepticism. After all, it’s hard to see exactly how Facebook can avoid stepping on people’s toes. What we’re seeing is an effort by Facebook to bolster the company’s inclusive image: but with moderators filtering through countless posts every day, it’s hard to imagine Facebook aren’t merely cooling things down and crossing their fingers in the hope that things don’t flare-up again anytime soon. Let’s watch this space.

Chris2d, via Wikimedia Commons
Most of us have a ton of personal info and private conversations over social networks. We share our deepest secrets with a true confidante, group photos that are too messy to even post publicly, or cute pictures of your dog with a hat on. You'd think that the networks that we're willing to divulge this trove of intimacy through would have to be pretty trustworthy, right? Well, apparently not, as an infographic from Craig Newmark over on Adweek's Social Times details how users' trust in social network security is basically nonexistent. Bet we still continue to spill our private lives over them, though.
In the survey, conducted as a follow up to a similar one performed in 2014, a number of fascinating trends regarding users' opinions of social media security became clear. The standout stat has to be that a staggering 96% of those surveyed 'don't have a lot of trust' that social networks will protect their privacy, representing a 3% drop in confidence since the last survey.
Unsurprisingly, older people had the least trust in these darn newfangled social webs, with 62% having 'very little or no trust.' Who could have guessed?
Trust levels correlate with how many social media sites someone uses, with 14% of those who regularly use 4 or above having 'a lot of trust.' This makes sense, although whether these users use more because they trust more or trust more because they use more is a bit of a conundrum. Let's go with a bit of both.
So what are the major concerns people have regarding how social networks handle their security? Well the top ranked worries were as follows:
  1. 80% - Concerned about downloading a virus or malware.
  2. 75% - Fear identity theft.
  3. 72% - Worried about tracking cookies (No, Facebook Grandma, not that type of cookies).
  4. 71% - Think too much data is being made public.
  5. 69% - Concerned about their email being hacked.
These are all legitimate concerns, although the high proportion of people that are worried about them reflects the general low level of trust that abounds.
Despite all this, usage of the social networks continued to blossom as trust declined, showing that the two trends seem to function independently of one another. Here are the top social networks used daily by the survey respondents (with their share two years ago and growth):
  1. Email - 84% (83% / +1)
  2. Facebook - 70% (68% / +2)
  3. Youtube - 36% (31% / +5)
  4. Twitter - 23% (21% / +2)
  5. Instagram - 21% (18% / +3)
  6. Google+ - 15% (14% / +1)
  7. Snapchat - 12% (10% / +2)
  8. LinkedIn - 10% (12% / -2)
  9. Tumblr - 8% (11% / -3)
  10. Vine - 8% (N/A)
  11. Tinder - 6% (N/A)
So there's been a general growth, except for poor LinkedIn and Tumblr. The fact that this growth is continuing despite the trust problems shows just how essential these apps are becoming to our everyday lives.
The social media networks themselves are aware of user opinions of security, and are always trying to implement new features and updates to improve them. From Facebook's raft of security and privacy options and bug bounty scheme, to Snapchat and Whatsapp trying to shore up their encryption methods. Yet it seems that users often don't delve deep enough into the settings to find and customise them. Which is strange, given how apparently concerned everyone is about their security. Perhaps their concern is legitimate, considering that the Federal Government now includes social media posts in its security clearance procedure. Not to mention whatever the NSA and GCHQ have stashed away in their shadowy archives. 
It's becoming increasingly difficult to draw the line between privacy and security at a time when our real and digital lives are beginning to overlap so considerably. Security thus has to be a high priority issue for social networks, and users are right to be concerned. It does appear that networks will continue to grow regardless, but as they march on, it might be best to make sure that march doesn't lead off a security cliff. Social media networks need to streamline the accessibility of their security options and improve their offerings so that in this ongoing trust exercise, users can close their eyes and trustingly fall backwards into the digital embrace of their media networks.

Marketing Land
Facebook Live is the next big thing. It's a revolution, the new standard of communication, at least Facebook is trying to make it so with a robust ad campaign. Announced Friday, the two-part campaign's sole driving force is showing the average user that Facebook's Live video feature is a tool for everyone. For the time being, ads can be seen in the U.S. and U.K. over a variety of platforms; TV, online ads, billboards, bus ads, basically any place where Facebook can jam an advert in.

Live streaming has become a way for brands to show off unique engagement, related art, or broadcast regular morning shows breaking the parameters of traditionalism. However, apart from that, the ordinary Facebook user has expressed apprehension towards using Live to personally stream. Internal research has proven that. To counter this stigma, the ads for this campaign have been shot using Facebook Live from phones to appear as organic as possible.

 Facebook Live Map (img src: facebooklive.nl)
The first batch of ads appear as video diaries or spontaneous events in 15-second spots beginning with a 3-2-1 countdown. The dialogue in ads is completely authentic, meaning no script was used. All content was compiled using Facebook Live and shot on a phone. Scott Trattner, Vice President and Executive Creative Director for Brand Marketing said that videos in the campaign are from real people who had their stream set to Public. By scanning Facebook Live Map for memorable streams, Facebook was able to feature original videos in its campaign.

Created by in-house ad agency The Factory, the ads released Monday are but the first stage of Facebook's campaign. Part one is aimed at spreading awareness.

Part two, slatted to drop 7 Nov., is a tutorial phase which will walk people through streaming. Vice President of Consumer and Brand Marketing Rebecca Van Dyck said to Adweek that this part of the campaign will be "a little more educational - the ads are a fun guide for how to go Live. It's the same aesthetic, but in many cases very site-specific. For example, we have one on a billboard in Times Square that literally says, 'How to Go Live in Times Square.'"

Business Insider UK
Facebook has formulated the absolute best way to push people into Live with these ads. Site-specific ads, like "How to Go Live While Everyone is Waiting for the First Suitcase to Drop" displayed near a luggage carousel, will prompt people to whip out their phones and follow directives on the spot. This will break the barrier for those who are nervous about appearing on a live video feed. Van Dyck said that the team "looked at the different places people go live, where they might be inspired, and the different moments people use the product" to demonstrate that Live is applicable to everyone. Undoubtedly, a portion of the tutorials will demonstrate how streamed events can be tailored to a specific audience for those who are shy about their social ventures.

The fun of the internet and social platforms in general is the lack of seriousness... or at least seriousness softened by little expressive faces. Facebook has bottled this fun and distributed it in the form of reaction emojis. During Live events, viewers can contribute with reaction emojis which bounce around the video.

Facebook is far from the first platform to venture into live territory. Twitch.tv has cornered the market on live streaming, broadcasting gamers and their games to ravenous fans since 2011. It wasn't until 2014 that Amazon acquired Twitch, once it had proven itself to be more than a passing fad. Steadily, this form of entertainment has cropped up in different applications. From communicating in (nearly) real-time on Snapchat to watching the presidential debate on YouTube's Live streaming section to exploring the world through the lens of Twitter's live-streaming app Periscope, live communication and broadcasting is the wave of the future.

Donald Trump isn't doing amazingly well at the moment. In the wake of a series of damning reports about his attitude towards women (and gender politics in general) and his increasingly childish behaviour during the live debates, it looks like the storm of insanity is finally starting to clear.

Well, sort of. Even if Trump's chances of claiming the White House have plummeted, he is still prime social media fodder for both supporters and detractors. The sheer volume of Trump related material incited a kind of unspoken agreement here that we wouldn't cover any of it unless it was interesting enough to counterbalance the free publicity we'd be giving him in the process.

In this case, the publicity side of things doesn't really seem to matter anymore, and this is certainly interesting enough to write about. Currently, Trump is being shadowed by an evil twin, a Twitter-bot that goes by the name of DeepDrumpf (Drumpf is Donald Trump's actual surname, his family had it changed when they arrived in the States).

As the name suggests, DeepDrumpf is powered by deep learning AI algorithms, and he uses them to mine Donald Trump's actual speech transcripts in order to imitate his rhetoric. The result is a slightly more exaggerated, madcap iteration of the man himself, offering to supply every American with "a solid gold nuclear weapon", or bring 180,000 immigrants "to slaughter", "especially women".

This darkly amusing chatterbox is serving two purposes - to make light of Trump's increasingly awful campaign, and to raise money. Indeed, a few days after the leaked recording of Trump on the bus went live, DeepDrumpf suddenly had a fundraising page. Was he running for president himself? No, in fact the page is raising money for GirlsWhoCode, who are trying to remove the glass ceiling in the computer science industry.

It might seem random, but it's actually rather apt. Not only was DeepDrumpf developed by an MIT researcher, Bradley Hayes, but can you think of any cause which would make Trump more angry and/or confused? At present, DeepDrumpf has 26.7 thousand followers, and the GoFundMe page has raised over $1,000. The goal is 25k, and the election itself is still weeks away, so hopefully by then some good will have actually come out the Drumpf name, something to make up for all the stupidity and manipulation of the past year. Small victories.

Is it better to work out by yourself or with friends? It depends on your approach, but the fact remains that, in adulthood, finding partners in crime for your athletic pursuits is a bit more difficult. You might have managed to talk your partner into going jogging with you, or had an impromptu basketball game with a few friends one sunny afternoon, but anything long term is going to be a lot harder to maintain.

To solve this issue, Miami startup Buddy Tech looked at Tinder. It's long since been proven that Tinder's swiping system is far more broadly applicable than first thought, and better suited to things other than dating. The latest on that list? Finding a gym buddy.

On Bvddy, you create profile which logs your location, age and the sports you're interested in, then matches you up with other people who have similar interests. This way, you can arrange that game of squash or weekly run with someone of a similar skill level, or look for events that you might be interested in and open up a dialogue with other people who are considering going.

The swiping interface is almost identical to Tinder's, and the discover feature simply lists nearby events that you might be interested in. Profiles are rated by how responsive they are, as well as how they were to partner up with, so the more you use the app, the more likely you'll be to get matched up.

Unlike a dating app, you can't really over or undersell your value, because it will either end up making you look like a fraud, or a jerk who just wanted to play tennis with someone they could utterly annihilate. People play sports because they want to have fun, primarily, and all this is really doing is sidestepping the awkward 'hey, do you climb?' conversation.

You can also create and manage events in-app, so if you buddy up with someone, and it's going well, you can start to arrange local events and get yet more people involved. Events are mapped to availability - you'll only see the ones which you're actually able to attend, so the chances of half a dozen people pulling out an hour beforehand are lessened.

It's pretty limited here the UK, I only found a handful of other users in the local area, but in the US it's reached in excess of 100,000 daily active users since launching last year, when it was limited to only Miami. With time and attention, this could end up being a truly global network, and more dedicated events and corporate sponsorship deals could emerge. Even if it hasn't fully reached your area yet, keep an eye on this one, it might just find your that fencing partner you've been needing since university.

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