November 2016

YouTube sensation and Beme founder Casey Neistat was recently cherry-picked by CNN to front line their new media. Poised to tap into the millennial bloodline, the untitled media venture will be built off of Beme, Neistat's video-sharing social app set to be shut down at the end of January. The reason for the closure? CNN bought Beme for a cool $25 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. CNN has given Neistat full creative control over their brand; a wise decision considering his ability to successfully brand himself and inspire a following. On YouTube, Neistat's 5.8 million subscribers were treated to daily videos in which he vlogged about parts of his life, tech reviews, and gave voice to internal dialogues. He's quitting his day job in order to fully invest in CNN's offering.

By rolling Neistat and his brainchild, Beme, into a two-for-one deal, CNN has positioned itself well to absorb a loyal YouTube fan base and Beme's 1.2 million members.

For those of you who missed out on Beme, know that it was truly one-of-a-kind. The rear-facing camera activated only when the front-facing camera was covered, recording after 4 seconds of obstruction and stopping at 8. Users were unable to edit, alter, or in any way preview the video once it was done. Videos sent off were, per Snapchat's model, obliterated once viewed, never to see the light of day. If the video was posted to your personal profile, others could react to it with short videos of their own. This format totally does away with the vanity typically associated with social media and encourages the sharing of raw experiences. During its beta launch in July, the app immediately skyrocketed in popularity, garnering half a million downloads within the first few days. It didn't top the charts for long though. Underdeveloped and buggy, the concept was revamped May of the following year and was released to both iOS and Android with some marked improvements, including the addition of reaction videos.

Mourning over the inevitable loss of your irreplaceable content? Beme users will be able to download all videos and reactions in the months leading up to the closure (31 January 2017 as outlined in co-founder Matt Hackett's blog post).

Hackett's post details the driving force behind the deal with CNN. Beme, as successful as it has become, does not live up to the ideal: a platform to "reshape social media into the vehicle for candid, unfiltered perspectives that we always felt it should be ... making the perspective of each of its inhabitants immediately and compellingly accessible through video." Neistat and Hackett put all their energy toward creating a news-driven, realistic social app, but projects they've produced thus far don't come anywhere near their vision. As CNN's new media is slotted to build off of Beme, Digital Trends expects that it will be used to share videos regarding current events, in-the-moment news that capitalises on what social media could be. The team of 11 currently operating Beme will stay in their own office, and the co-founders expect to immediately start hiring engineering and creative talent for the new media. Hackett believes that the partnership with CNN will be able to foster the kind of growth that he hoped to see from Beme:
More than ever, these technologies need to be seized to open up the world: to show more perspectives, to add more context. WE must prevent social media from becoming a barren landscape of echoey trenches. CNN, doubly so with the addition of our team at Beme, will be passionately driving these technologies forward.

Beme was only the first of Neistat's app adventures. He also created Exit Poll in early November, coinciding with America's 2016 election. Living up to his image, Neistat's Exit Poll is another truly unique venture. Exit Poll presented a valuable tool, tapping into the real-time footage of voter thoughts. Users were encouraged to state outright who they voted for, giving a short speech detailing the reasoning behind their decision. Videos shared to the app were curated into a Facebook Live stream on its Page.  The videos are still available to watch, so mosey on over if you aren't still reeling from the results.
Dipping a toe into the swarming pool of uncertainty and doubt that was America, Exit Poll came out with rational, usable information. The app "was a small antidote to the filter bubbles of traditional social media, streaming the unfiltered views of real voters across the country on election day," said Hackett.

The dynamic duo's newest venture is "going to be very different from Beme and bigger than a single product," Neistat told The Verge in a phone interview. Look to the horizon for this one folks. It should be well worth the wait.

The Moodchik
Somehow, even in this day and age, printed content feels so much more real than digital. You can scroll and swipe and VR to your heart's content but it still won't have the same feel as a tome gently resting in your hands. That in mind, how would it feel to have a year or more's worth of your social media activity resting there in such a way? Very weird, I imagine.

Well, I don't have to imagine, and neither does anybody else, thanks to My Social Book. It's a service which takes your social media data and transforms it into a volume, which you can then pay to have printed and sent to you. Photos, status updates, wall posts, comments and everything else are arranged into sections, ordered by year, and beyond that everything else is pretty much up to you.

You can see the preview more or less straight after inputing the parameters. I took a look at mine and it was a strange experience, to say the least. There was a two page spread of photos of my friend Adam's face, courtesy of something that happened when I left my phone with him on a night out, and one page was largely occupied by a fairly heated political debate I'd had with someone, but bookended by link to a movie trailer and a photo of me with a dog's head.

It seems like the broader appeal of this service depends heavily on how you use your Facebook and Instagram accounts. If, like me, you're a bit more scattershot, it's going to come out looking like House of Leaves, but if you're a parent, or someone who documents things a bit more consistently, it would probably make for a great memento.

The service tends to opt for the more popular posts, which again means that parents are going to see lots of kid-related fare, as well as any kind of life achievement, the kind of thing that's easy to like, and thus gets liked a lot. Again, I'm probably in the wrong market, half of what I do on social media is share my writing, other people's writing, and get tagged in embarrassing photos from gigs and music festivals. Hardly coffee table book material.

If you are the sort of person who might have something to gain from this service, it's relatively cost-effective and there's all kinds of gift giving potential in there. On a more basic level though, once again, it would be interesting to actually have and hold a physical manifestation of social media activity.

Facebook just made Messenger a lot more interesting, or at least time consuming. They've been tinkering around with ways to add more gaming functionality to the service for a while, and now we've got it, in the form of Instant Games.

It's a small library of mobile iterations of classic titles like Pac-Man, Space Invaders and more recent, Facebook-centric fare like an updated version of Words with Friends. Since the games are built from a basic HTML5 framework, they load instantly without any need to download anything. They can be played either through Messenger or even through the Facebook news feed, on mobile or web.

As of today, it's available in 30 countries, but still technically on a closed beta, so don't fret if you can't see the little control pad prompt yet, it'll turn up soon. The idea is to get people hanging around on Messenger for more reasons that just talking, and as any veteran of the simple, yet fiendishly addictive Messenger basketball game will tell you, beating some else's high score does that job very well indeed.

The games themselves are, apparently, a bit hit and miss at the moment. The controls seem to be the most common source of complaint, not everything is ideally suited to a touchscreen, or a mouse and keyboard, and few things are ideally suited to both. The strongest points are the graphics and general presentation; judging from the videos and written testimony, the games look and feel great.

The most important thing, though, is the score driven, rapid fire approach they take, daring players to lock themselves into a feverish battle of oneupmanship. Have you ever tried to keep up with a 9-way Messenger conversation? Well now imagine that when all the people involved are also trying to get the top score on Akranoid.

Once this is fully available, Facebook will presumably open things up to third party developers, and then the real fun can begin. Instant Games will always be a limited toolkit, but I guarantee that indie developers will find far more interesting ways to utilise it than just cloning arcade classics. I just hope they open rehab clinics as well.

After Jeremy Clarkson's ill-fated end on the massively popular BBC show Top Gear, he fell off the face of the earth for a little while, and rightfully so. His dismissal can be equally attributed to his rambunctious temperament and tactlessness as it can be to his physical altercation and verbal bashing of show producer Oisin Tymon. The final straw, Clarkson and Tymon's confrontation, was by no means the deciding factor; the final year of the dynamic trio, 2014, saw Clarkson at the root of three large-scale controversies, according to Car and Driver. In that time, Clarkson made an anti-Asian racist joke resulting in a lawsuit for the BBC, said the N-word in rehearsal footage, and gloated about the British victory over the Argentinians in the 1982 Falklands War, driving a Porsche with the license plate H982 FKL in Argentina. It was later revealed that the license plate came that way and that Clarkson had nothing to do with it. And yet, these are only a few in a long history of offenses.

All that behind, however, Clarkson is taking steps to establish a new domain. Information about the Top Gear trio's newest project has been buzzing since August. They've taken it upon themselves to create an online motoring community, a social media platform for car-enthusiasts. The former team - Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May - will be supplemented by former Top Gear producer Andy Wilman.

DRIVETRIBE, the final product, went live Monday the 28th of November. Available online and through the app, the platform works in a unique way, by divvying up users into "tribes." Tribes cover a specific topic of interest, ranging from hardcore ("Vintage Racecars") to casual ("Sh**ty Car Mods"). Here are some examples:
  • "James May's Carbolics"
  • "Jeremy Clarkson's Tribe"
  • "Hammond's Fob Jockeys" 
  • "Off Road the Planet" 
  • "Future Machines"
  • "Curves, Soulful Driving"
In order to use the platform, you must sign-up by logging into Facebook. From there, you are prompted to join up no less than six tribes, each granting access to different content. Don't worry too much about choosing the perfect tribes to begin with as this can be changed later on. After joining six tribes, the next thing you'll notice is that there are followers and that you can bump posts to those followers, indicating that the website will function similarly to Reddit and Twitter. Users can comment, repost, or bump (the equivalent of favouriting or upvoting).

Clarkson told Mashable in a press release, "The internet is brilliant. You can watch Pandas sneezing and find out when it's high water in the Easter Islands. But until DRIVETRIBE came along, there's never been a one-stop-shop for people who like cars."

After a quick perusal, the site is clean, visually-pleasing, and well divided thanks to tribe's content division. Tribe-relevant content is presented in a scrolling, NewsFeed-like manner. Scroll to your heart's content; the posts are endless. Users interested in unrelenting car information can tailor their experience accordingly whereas those interested simply in surface matters can alter their feed (hello, "Dogs in Cars").

Below you'll find the preview for DRIVETRIBE:

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella with LinkedIn chief Jeff Weiner - img: BBC
Back in June, Microsoft announced its biggest ever takeover: a $26 billion all-cash acquisition of professional networking site LinkedIn. With a view to completing the deal before the close of 2016, Microsoft has been hammering-out particulars for the better part of six months. Now, it seems, a significant breakthrough is imminent, with European Union regulators reportedly set to give the deal their stamp of approval; despite fierce protestations from another tech titan, Salesforce, which claims the creation of such a far-reaching partnership would curtail competition and innovation.

Without the consent of the European Commission, Microsoft and LinkedIn would be unable to freely roll-out their joint operations in member states. Microsoft alone has already suffered $2.3bn worth of EU fines over the past ten years, according to Reuters. To operate unimpeded in the EU (which is home to many customers of both Microsoft and LinkedIn), Microsoft reportedly made two concessions last week in an effort to address the central point of contention: whether the takeover would make it unjustifiably easy for LinkedIn to outpace its rivals.

The first concession, Reuters claims, will see Microsoft 'allow LinkedIn's rivals access to its software.' This means rival professional networking sites like Jobcase would still be allowed to use, or continue to use, things like the APIs for Microsoft Outlook (which allow multiple programs to talk to each other on a single computer).

The second concession will 'give hardware makers the option of installing other services.' This means that computer manufacturers like HP and Dell, whose products (being 'PCs') run Windows, would be allowed to disable the LinkedIn shortcut on the desktops of the computers they produce (a shortcut which could be default in a Windows OS after the acquisition). What's more, they could even install in its place third-party apps for rival companies like Jobcase.

Although these concessions seem to have been enough to swing the EU's favour, they don't seem enough to silence critics of the deal. Burke Norton, Chief Legal Officer of San Francisco-based cloud computing company Salesforce, has led the charge of criticism of the deal over the past few months: albeit with a somewhat different focal point to those in the above concessions. 

First, we should mention: Salesforce ended up as Microsoft's biggest rival in securing the LinkedIn takeover back in June; so it's hardly presumptuous to believe that ulterior motives lurk behind the company's ostensible concern for healthy European competition. Nonetheless, we would do well to consider whether their claims hold water.

Salesforce's key arguments regarding competitiveness have centred around user data, rather than software and hardware issues: specifically, if Microsoft held the vast amounts of user data which LinkedIn currently has, then it could, as the new gatekeeper, pull up the drawbridge. In that scenario, Microsoft would be able to reap all the benefits of the LinkedIn data, whilst outsiders (including LinkedIn's rivals) would be denied access to it. That, Salesforce has claimed, could ultimately squash every professional networking site except LinkedIn, whose competitors often rely on the LinkedIn data pool being directly accessible.

The Telegraph reported in September that such concerns were 'gaining traction with some European officials.'

However, it seems counter-arguments have ended up prevailing in the data regard. Most important, it seems, is the argument which says the extent to which Microsoft could curtail competition by wielding user data is less extreme than the extent to which other big data-gatherers like Facebook are already allowed by the European Commission to curtail competition elsewhere.

It is true that EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has made various moves to crack-down on the use of such data being gathered by the likes of Facebook from a consumer rights perspective (in an interesting argument which regards user data as a form of currency, the exchange of which merits the enforcement of consumer rights regulations); but from an antitrust, pro-competition stance, the Microsoft takeover of LinkedIn is indeed less exceptional than Salesforce would have us believe.

And that, ultimately, is why the EU is likely to give the deal the go-ahead. The concessions made by Microsoft last week still do not allow outsiders direct access to the LinkedIn data; but they do enough to quell the EU's concerns around the competitiveness of rival services. The question of whether the Microsoft-LinkedIn competition-curtailing would be just one bad thing to add to a list of many other bad things, some of which are worse, is perhaps a debate for another day. Today, at least, we can say with fair confidence that, with a final EU announcement expected by 6 December, the takeover of LinkedIn by this Californian behemoth is most likely going to be approved.

The Next Web
A new feature is selectively rolling out to Facebook mobile app users and it'll help you mooch off free Wi-Fi hot spots. Called "Find Wi-Fi," the function is found in the menu options of the Facebook app. Using the feature will require you to set your location access to "always." Facebook will then locate free, public Wi-Fi near you, highlighting the areas on a map and providing directions, according to The Next Web.

A spokesperson for Facebook told Mashable: "To help people stay connected to the friends and experiences they care about, we are rolling out a new feature that surfaces open Wi-Fi networks associated with nearby places."

The feature will display Wi-Fi locations by the name of the business, listing the distance from your current location and hours of operation. The running list will be made up of mostly businesses with, perhaps, the random unsecured connection. Find Wi-Fi can only serve to benefit businesses. People have proven that they flock to locations offering free internet (just peek into any coffee shop), leading to potential sales and public attention.

Red dots = Free Wi-Fi!
(img src: The Next Web)
This idea has been in different phases of adaption for a few years now. An early adaptation, free Wi-Fi for check-ins, was the byproduct of a partnership between Facebook and Cisco Meraki. Checking in at a business' Facebook page gifted the person checking in with free Wi-Fi. In theory, this concept works great, but was limited to businesses using Cisco Meraki routers. Facebook later expanded the partnership to include Netgear, strategically widening their free Wi-Fi net. The preexisting structure webbed between Cisco Meraki and Netgear routers may have lent a hand in the Find Wi-Fi feature. Shortly before the Find Wi-Fi feature began testing, Facebook requested that business Pages include whether free Wi-Fi is offered at their physical location.

Anyone paying even a smidgen of attention to our social overlords will know that Facebook has positioned itself squarely behind Live. As determined as a snarling bulldog, it nudges live-streaming forward, rallying behind the incorporation real-time sharing into daily life. However, live-streaming is less than ideal without a proper connection. Using Find Wi-Fi to connect away from home will enable live-streaming from any imaginable location. Universal internet access allows for a constant stream of information, fulfilling Facebook's vision for Live.

Integrating a Wi-Fi finder into the Facebook app will give it more functionality, propelling people to open it several times on an outing. Alas, Facebook traps its users into scrolling endlessly through their NewsFeed. Not only can Facebook lead you to the nearest free Wi-Fi, it connects you to a virtual world.

As of now, the feature has only been seen on the Facebook app on select iOS devices. It seems to be in the early stages of testing. It is not yet known whether the feature will be available to countries outside of the U.S.

This year, talk of the social media 'echo chamber' has been on the up. Again and again, the actual results of various elections and referendums has gone completely against what everyone was expecting, and that has broader implications about social media platforms - and Facebook in particular - as a news resource.

Since the news feed is both curated to make sure you only see things you like, and directly tethered to your friends and family, most of whom you probably have similar views to, you're unlikely to ever encounter content you disagree with.

This has turned the actual people you might disagree with into shadowy figures, making it that much easier to pigeonhole them. There were likely many Trump voters without an ounce of bigotry in their hearts, but if that's how they're represented to the people who never actually come into contact with them, well, that's how they'll all seem.

In a strange way, it actually puts me in mind of conspiracy theories. Last year, a study on conspiracy theorists' activity on Facebook showed that they were so intrenched in their own circles that when the researchers actually joined the groups and posted news so bogus it was almost laughable, they were just as receptive to it and they were to the regular, honestly intended material. With that in mind, think about all those random images of Donald Trump which have been floating around with unsourced quotes over the top. Feeling a twinge of anxiety? Yeah, me too.

So how do we deal with this? It's going to be a long, hard road, but the first step is to actually educate yourself about how the other half lives. Being able to gauge or even understand the views of people who you don't agree with, or even are angered by is very important. It leads to more open discussion, and open discussion breeds compromise. Fundamentally, most of us want the same thing.

EscapeYourBubble certainly isn't going to solve the issue by itself, but it certainly doesn't hurt. It's a Chrome extension which actively alters your news feed to offer more contrasting material, depending on who you want to 'understand better' - the left or the right. For the time being, it's aimed at Republicans and Democrats, but there's certainly potential for it to expand.

All the stories it sources are from trusted sites, and it's not necessarily all material that's meant to challenge your opinion, some of it is there to offer insights into their mindsets, and crucially, how these mindsets played into their voting habits.

Really, we shouldn't need a browser extension for this, we should all be working harder, but sometimes you need a catalyst, and this could well be it for some people. You can install EscapeYourBubble here, and even if you're not in the US, it's still a good way to make your news feed a bit less one-sided.

Digital Trends
One of the main workarounds put into use with Snapchat was taking screenshots of the messages so they would be saved somewhere, rather than outright disappearing. It was a simple trick, and it also meant that, owing to phones only having a certain amount of space, only the best snaps ended up being committed to the digital halls of history.

If you hadn't noticed, Instagram have been copying Snapchat features left, right and centre, and alongside the new ephemeral messaging system, they've also cloned the feature which Snapchat brought in to address it - the sender gets a notification when someone screenshots their picture.

The key difference? With Snapchat an icon pops up, but with this you actually get a push notification telling you who it was. That might sound relatively minor, but it rewires the entire process. From the person taking the screenshot's point of view, saving the image might be completely innocent, but the sender may not interpret it that way, depending on who the other person is. Facebook really do seem to be waging war on anyone even mildly socially anxious.

I suppose you could equally argue that they're doing this to keep people from creeping on each other, but that wouldn't exactly fall in line with the company ethos, given that Instagram seems like it was almost designed to let you creep on people.

Of course you can still screenshot anything else you find on Instagram and it won't send notifications to anyone, but weirdly if you take one of your dashboard it'll suggest places you might want to share it, because that's not weird. In either case, screenshots and Instagram - not good bedfellows.

The local magistrates court of Indore, India, last week criminalised the distribution via social media of 'misinformation' regarding the country's sudden and highly controversial scrapping of Rs1000 and Rs500 notes earlier this month. In justifying the ruling, the district court invoked Section 144 of the CrPC, which is used to clamp-down on 'urgent cases of nuisance of apprehended danger' and dangerous 'riot-like situations.' Critics have called it an overreach by local authorities. The demonetisation, announced on 8 November, was an attempt to crack down on the 'black economy' in the country.

Defending the latest order, which is dated 14 November, district magistrate P. Narhari said: 'Because of the events of the past few days, it is clear that Facebook posts and comments/likes on them, messages on WhatsApp, which are unfavourable, have hurt the sentiments of the general public. Forwarding such messages on Twitter etc, has a proximate and direct nexus with the disruption of public order. Such conduct in future can disturb public order and give rise to a reaction that can incite an individual to commit a crime.'

There were, indeed, some chaotic scenes at Indian banks as people rushed to cash-in their notes earlier this month; which is probably down to the fact that the two notes accounted for about 85% of all cash in circulation. As the BBC reports, India is overwhelmingly a cash economy, and the move badly hit low-income families and traders who deal in cash.

In response to the Indore ruling, Apar Gupta, co-founder of Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) told The Economic Times that 'even if there are rumours that are shared...there is no need to come up with a blanket order that restricts speech. Our entire thrust is that it is an overreach of Section 144.'

This is the third major move to curtail the spread of 'misinformation' via social media that we have seen in the space of as many weeks. There are notable similarities between Narhari's invocation of the protection of the public good, and the language recently used by Cameroonian official Cavayé Yéguié Djibril, who claimed social media 'is now being used for misinformation...and [the] manipulation of consciences thereby instilling fear in the general public.'  

What's more, both embargoes have come in the wake of crackdowns by Facebook itself regarding the sharing of misinformation on the site; albeit prompted by the outcome of the US election rather than social or monetary controversies. Nonetheless, both purported democracies - that for netizens, and that for Indians - are now answering fresh questions regarding just how far free speech can be accommodated. Sadly, neither solution looks particularly promising; and, indeed, neither seems to tackle the root of its respective issues.

Certain Indian authorities have gained a reputation for banning pretty much everything that moves in recent years, with some such moves being pretty outrageous. Indeed, just six months ago, IIT Indore, the city's state-run university of technology, completely banned the use of all social media in order to stop students protesting against a 150% fee hike for PhD scholars. Nonetheless, all this banning has ended up generating some pretty hilarious satire, which is perhaps a silver lining. ("Two roads diverged in the woods and I banned them both". I need a moment).

Overall, though, last week's news is bad: thanks less to the order itself and more to the things for which it opens doors. It could well be, for instance, yet another chapter in an overall quite depressing long-term narrative regarding the curtailing of the internet as a platform upon which voices can be given to those who would otherwise struggle to be heard. A normalised tendency to clamp down upon the spreading of misinformation, after all, will ultimately hand greater power to the state in the future suppression of public dissidence and organisation.

In 2015, American drones were used to tail Junaid Hussain, a 21-year-old hacker and recruiter for the Islamic State. He kept his young son nearby in order to evade drone attacks; until he went to an internet cafe, and was killed by a Hellfire missile. From Birmingham, England, Hussain was the leader of a group of English-speaking computer specialists using their skills and knowledge to represent the Islamic State, invoking its wrath using followers in the West. This is only the latest of several take-downs carried out against "the Legion," a cell focused on spreading radicalism beyond its physical means. Legion propaganda is linked to a spat of counter-terrorist movements in the United States in 2015.

In March 2015, Hussain released more than 1,300 American military and government employees' personal information with the message that followers should "Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking they are safe." Here, he acted as a hacker. Otherwise, Hussain acted as an online recruiter, forming malleable soldiers in West.

Court records show that Hussain was in contact with at least four men in different states. His contact consisted of asking them to stage attacks or act as a mouthpiece for the Islamic State's message. The New York Times cites Hussain as the force behind an attempted attack on Pamela Geller, author for a conservative blog. His puppet, Usaamah Abdullah Rahim, was instructed to kill Geller; however, once it came time, Rahim chose to kill a police office in her place. Fortunately, Rahim was under scrutiny by the bureau. He was shot and killed after approaching an F.B.I. surveillance team with a knife. Two of his associates were arrested for involvement with the attempted murder.

Munir Abdulkader (img src: nytimes)
In an unrelated attempt, Hussain urged Ohio college student Munir Abdulkader to kidnap a member of the military. Their intent: to record a killing on video. The F.B.I. threw a wrench into their plans. Once that plan fell through, Hussain told Abdulkader to bomb a Cincinnati police station. However, that plan too was laid to rest, and Abdulkader was arrested. He pleaded guilty to material support for terrorism and was given a 20-year sentence. These are only a couple examples of Hussain's vast reach.

Bringing the Rain

American forces, in allegiance with others, have worked towards bringing down major players in the Legion cell. Their campaign was kept largely quiet, but is responsible for taking out about a dozen key members. Despite their latest mini-victory, American forces ascertain that the Islamic State's social media reach is well-developed and strong; even with the loss of a few extremities, attacks are still a risk. It is suspected that the group has contingency cells in Europe.

Initially, the Legion was identified as a threat by law enforcement officials. As flare-up terrorism acts blazed across the United States in places like San Bernadino, CA and Orlando, FL, militaristic interference loomed, but only after the situtaion in America worsened did the bureau demand military attention. From there, it was only a matter of putting together allied forces and organising a pointed plan of attack.

American and British forces slowly but surely removed members via drones, mounting a transnational attack; on the home front, the F.B.I. dug through the Legion's social media followers to root out those who acted for the Islamic State. Harvesting the fruits of their labour, nearly 100 people have been apprehended for terrorist involvement. According to the New York Times, some of the arrested people were in direct contact with the Legion. A large number of arrests were made on persons who were already of interest to the F.B.I., according to Andrew McCabe, deputy director.

A senior American law enforcement official described the continued terrorism activities as a "nightmare" for the F.B.I. The workload increase was so drastic that criminal officers were moved to surveillance squads, says F.B.I. director James B. Comey.

Following the military's success, the Legion has been left with a gaping hole. Lacking a hacker with Hussain's proficiency has crippled their transnational capabilities for the time being.

How many pieces of space junk do you reckon are floating around orbiting our planet? Take a wild guess. In fact, the answer is in excess of 200 million. In less than a century, we've managed to turn the nearest region of space to our home planet into a cluttered mess of discarded space equipment, dead satellites and other such things.

Sometimes it's a necessary evil, jettisoning something is far easier than bringing it back to Earth, especially if it'll only get thrown away once it gets back down here, but in any case, it's slightly upsetting that even out in space, humans are still hopeless litterbugs.

A big part of art is taking things which would otherwise serve little to no purpose, and imbuing them with significance. In the case of Adrift, the things are 27,000 pieces of said space junk, and the means of imbuing is Twitter. Through their service, you can directly tweet at any one of the pieces, and it'll tweet back, letting you know where it is, how long it's been out there, why it's out there, and even how it's feeling.

In sum, then, Adrift allows you to a adopt a hunk of space debris, anything from an old Russian space suit to a monitoring satellite which is actually the oldest human artefact in space. It's an interesting idea, adopting a piece of floating space-waste, but the tweets are just the surface tension, there's more going on beneath.

See, the device which actually tracks the space junk also converts the electric signals given off by each individual piece into sound. The sounds themselves are reminiscent of the scores from films like Alien and Silent Running. Eerie drones and hums, an all too fitting serenade for broken and beaten metal skeletons set floating endlessly above our heads.

Space junk is also, of course, very dangerous. If it collects into larger clusters, the speed at which it orbits the planet mean that these clusters form devastating waves of destruction. What happened in Gravity? That's an all-too-real risk for astronauts.

Adrift will be hosting an exhibition in London early next year, which will likely include many of the tweeted dialogues between curious users and the talkative, enlivened space ghosts. In the mean time, you can check out the project, and adopt a metal baby of your own here.

Blissfully Blank
Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, just launched a publishing platform marketed to bloggers. Called Telegraph, the standalone service does not require users to have any ties to Telegram. It works much more simply than that, by placing a cookie in your browser.

Head over to the website and you'll be greeted by an unassuming, clean white page. The site is occupied only by the words Title, Your Name,Your Story, and Publish. It is blogging at it's finest, free from the annoyance of formatting, the cumbersome editing and placing of images. It reminds me of a journal, only with structure. However, this simplicity forces the experienced writer to measure it against giants like Medium or Blogger. There are no features to be seen, and functionality is a joke. Heck, even WordPress is more put together.

According to Telegram, Telegraph enables "rich posts with markdown ... and all sorts of embedded stuff," including multiple images and links. As of yet, posts cannot be tied to a publication nor can previous posts be accessed/archived. If in the middle of the post you have to step away, drafts cannot be saved. If you spot an error, too bad because published posts cannot be edited. Telegraph bloggers are limited to publishing a single post at a time and sharing its unique URL before it disappears into the depths of the internet; though if you have cookies enabled, you will be able to find them, says TechCrunch.

What a change.

These posts, the kinds that are word-driven, are unlike the ones that modern society has begun to appreciate. You know the kind; those overly-crowded Buzzfeed drivel making the front page of Reddit, solidifying opinions for the minds of the masses using clickbait titles and images with shock factor. Telegraph posts focus entirely on the writing. It gives writers an outlet over which to forget about grammar and punctuation though what writer would willingly do ... such a - thing (did I do it)?

Realistically, Telegraph can expect to be a memo pad kind of place where quick thoughts are jotted down with a pleasing, easy-to-use interface at least until a couple more features are added. Telegram has promised to shortly add log-ins. It isn't necessary to have a Telegram account to use Telegraph, but if you do your posts will appear as Instant View pages on the app. The new feature, announced 22 November, will load certain articles quickly when accessed on mobile.

WhatsApp just came out with an update that lets you stream video as it downloads to your device. Previously, videos had to be downloaded to the device before it could be watched. This new feature will cut down on the couple of seconds between receiving a video and being able to watch it.

If you have the app set up to download media upon receiving it, the message will automatically download. Progress will be displayed in a meter, nothing new. With the update, you can now select the video to preview it while it downloads. After fully downloaded, the video duration takes the place of the progress bar.
If you have the app set up to to download media upon approval, you must select the download button the the bottom of the display in order to begin the download. However, the video is available for streaming upon arrival, simply press the play button.

Skype chat functions in exactly the same as WhatsApp did, by allowing users to watch videos only once they've been fully downloaded. Given the immediateness of other applications and messaging programs, this slight delay can cause infinite annoyance. This update comes on the heels of a couple in-app improvements, from mimicking Snapchat features to ripping off Snapchat Stories. It seems that Facebook is whipping its extremities into line in order to compete with the top of the top. Facebook recently acquired facial recognition software, giving it a step-up into Snapchat's arena.

Snapchat is in a bit of a mixed moment right now. On the one hand, the app is flourishing, with more users than ever before, burgeoning ad revenue, releasing the massively hyped and well-received Snap Spectacles, and filing for a massive $25 billion IPO. On the other, Facebook, and more specifically Instagram, are continuing to engage all their considerable machinery to push snapchat back out of the picture.

Facebook/Instagram marks some seriously heavy competition, and they've been bringing in Snapchat-challenging tech such as their own stories, and ephemeral messaging and live broadcasting. They're determined to face down the threat Snapchat poses, but Snapchat is still holding its own, with few users leaving the app.

One way that Snapchat does struggle, at least compared to Facebook, is with ad revenue, and they've been trying to bump this up before the IPO goes live. Facebook, however, have extremely strong ad-targeting software, and an absolutely massive reach that is nigh impossible to overcome.

If Snapchat stands any chance of doing so, they need a really creative advertising boon, something that will make them stand out from the crowd. Step forward, image-triggered ads:

This little vid may look relatively inconspicuous, but the consequences could be game-changing. As you can see, the tech allows certain images in the Snapchat camera to trigger popups. You can see where this is going with regards for advertising.

The uses could be endless. A certain brand logo in a snap could give a link to the brand's products. Users could even receive money for incorporating specific brands into their snaps. Indeed, back in July, Snapchat actually filed a patent for an advertising system based around object recognition in your snaps, and it appears that the tech to do so is nearly here.

In the patent, Snapchat details ideas such as how an object "recognized as a restaurant" give snap users that restaurant's menu. Alternatively, a filter associated with a particular dish from that restaurant may include "celebratory graphics" to "commemorate the user's achievements" if they order it enough.

This could even lead to companies buying image rights to a certain object in Snapchat, a more than faintly terrifying prospect. Scary as it may be, it is in keeping with the commercialisation of every aspect of social media user experiences. See, for example, Instagram's addition of shoppable tags to fill your feed with products and streamline your purchase of them. It's hard to see Facebook ignoring the insane marketability of this image recognition technology, and if Snapchat implements it, it's only a matter of time until the others will to, patent or no.

Still, I'm going to enjoy my relatively ad-free Snapchat experience while it lasts, before my dog's face is bought by Pedigree and those pictures of people's meals I definitely love to receive are crowded with the cheapest place to buy all the ingredients. The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment is truly near.

Remember the much-berated selfie stick? People were quick to demonise and condemn the selfie-tool. Despite the hate, I don't doubt that many of you received one as funny stocking-stuffer only to realise that they are, in fact, dead useful. If you can bring yourself to whip it out in public, pictures actually turn out well and everyone fits in the shot. The damned invention actually has a practical use, regardless of how harshly others may judge you for using one.

Coca-Cola has found an unusual way to encourage narcissism and revive the selfie stick with their newest creation, the Coca-Cola selfie bottle. These 500ml bottles have a plastic camera attached to the bottom which automatically snaps a photo when tilted to a 70-degree angle. For those of you who don't down your pop in one ungodly chug, that means that there's the potential for Coca-Cola to stockpile dozens of photos of you enjoying their beverage. A bit creepy, but okay. Photos are automatically uploaded to Coca-Cola's Israeli Facebook page and Instagram account. That's ... even creepier. So, in buying a selfie bottle, you are signing up to have your face plastered all over corporate social media. Keep that firmly in mind.

Apparently the camera will also upload shots to your Snapchat account. As of now, the method by which it gains access to your account has not been disclosed. The bottle mechanism comes in the trademark Coca-Cola red with the camera lens at the top. It is said to be equipped with a USB port to transfer out images.

Created by Tel Aviv creative agency Gefen Team, the bottles were meant to be released over the summer as a part of the Coca-Cola Summer Love campaign. The idea was spawned after Gefen Team noticed a gap in the market for novelty drinks. A summer release would have produced some inspiring, picturesque selfies. However, they've been delayed until recently. Look out for these bottles in the coming weeks.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman is in a bit of hot water after recently admitting that he edited comments made by Trump supporters on the platform.

Huffman confessed to changing abusive posts that mentioned his username, making them instead refer to the moderators of the largest pro-Trump subreddit on the site, /r/the_donald. As you can imagine, this didn't go down too well, with downvoters flooding in in the hundreds:

“Yep. I messed with the “fuck u/spez” comments, replacing “spez” with r/the_donald mods for about an hour,” Huffman said in response to a post decrying exactly that on the pro-Trump subreddit.
"As the CEO, I shouldn’t play such games, and it’s all fixed now," he said. "Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won’t do this again." Huffman's apology probably reflects his community team's ire, rather than true contrition. Which is kind of understandable, given the level of abuse he receives. As he justified, "it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly," also blaming the high tension after #pizzagate for his actions.

#pizzagate refers to a fake news story that had been doing the rounds alleging that Hillary Clinton had been kidnapping and molesting children in the back of a pizza restaurant in New York. A fairly unlikely and unsubstantiated claim, you would think, but the story gained lots of traction online in pro-Trump arenas, eventually leading to death threats towards the owner of the restaurant. So you can see why things got a little hectic.

Still, it's problematic when one of a site's higher-ups decides to start editing users' posts, regardless of content or motive. It brings to mind censorship or news manipulation, akin to that of China or Russia rather than the neckbeard homeworld of Reddit. User comments should be sacrosanct, not subject to change at the whim of an admin. If the content of those comments is abusive enough to warrant deletion, then fair enough, but that should be under strict criteria, not down to admin opinion.

On that note, thanks for that comment on my last article Anonymous356, love that you thought it was "the worst piece of crap I ever read truly amazing journalism". It means a lot to me.

Can we... can we still wear clothes with the glasses on? Would they still work?... img: iTech
Spectacles are Snap Inc.'s first real hardware venture. But oh boy, are things going well so far. They've been popping-up for sale in vending machines known as Snapbots in certain obscure locations in the US for the better part of a month now. But this week, they made a much-anticipated trip Eastward, landing in New York, New York in a pop-up location just across the road from Apple's 5th avenue flagship shop. Talk about eyeballing the competition.

The response from New York, New Yorkers? People ended up queuing for six hours in freezing cold weather, in a line that stretched "around the block" and into the "subway" (I'm not sure what those things are, but apparently they're good news).

A few journalists reported on the scene as they visited the store themselves. Lauren Johnson of AdWeek described the interior of the shop as 'a big empty room with a vending machine in it,' and appropriately used Snapchat to show us the gallery-esque interior, with its revolving video screens displaying footage taken, presumably, by the Spectacles themselves.
The pop-up shop in New York, New York - img: Recode
The excitement just goes to show how effective an ad campaign can be if the product is right and the models are scantily clad.

But let's not deny the former point its due: Spectacles really are a good piece of kit. If you haven't encountered them yet, they're video-recording sunglasses which launched this Autumn. In basic terms, they're cheaper camera-glasses than Google Glass, but can still be worn a la face, unlike the more rugged GoPro camera type (which accompanies shark attacks more than it does cheekbones).

They're capable of connecting to your phone via Bluetooth or WiFi, allowing you to share the videos you've recorded with your friends via the company's social media channel (i.e. the Snapchat app). Many reviews favour Spectacles because they're far simpler, less geeky and cheaper than Google Glass: at only $129, there's really no comparison to the $1,500 tag which accompanied the Google product upon launch.

Personally, I've never been crazy about the whole "recording people when they're talking to you" thing. Even though the Spectacles have a big light on them to let everyone know you're taking a video, I still think they're antisocial. Still, others do seem to like them; so it seems Spectacles are probably going to be a big thing in the months to come.

Technology Personalized
Some of you may remember the anonymous sharing app Secret. It acted as an outlet for people to post thoughts and inner dialogues on a discreet forum, acting as a social network devoid of identifying profiles. It was shut down September 2015 following a spat of legal battles and complaints that it enabled bullying. When Secret blushed lips with a telltale glimmer of truth (i.e. in its heyday), the app boasted 15 million users. Developed by co-founders David Byttow and Chrys Bader-Wechseler, the app allowed posters to disclose telling information - rumors or gossip - without identifying details. It fell into disarray when several team members left the company, Bader-Wechseler was one of them, prompting an immediate cut in staff. Eventually, it closed down.

On 12 November, David Byttow announced in a Facebook post on his personal profile and Twiter that Secret would be brought back to life. Spurred to action by the results for America's 2016 Presidential Election, Byttow told TechCrunch that "the downsides of current social media products MUST be addressed, and this is currently the way that I know how."

Clearly, the results of the election came as a shock.

The groundwork for social media integration into politics was laid by the Obama administration. Aside from giving the nation a firsthand view into Obama's thoughts, life, and policies, his social presence have made him one of the more popular presidents in history. His personal touch was clarified through his social media reflection. Following his unrivaled success through social platforms, the next candidates for the presidency were quick to adopt social media into their separate campaigns. During the election, social media morphed into a campaign tool used to pigeonhole support and force mass appeal. It directly influenced the outcome of the election; Donald Trump even credited it for his win. Facebook's recent mix-up with fake news has been linked to the outcome of the election, as it caused an "echo chamber" effect.

For now, the new Secret is in the early planning stages with no release date in sight. To start off, Byttow plans to get input on the app in order to build so as to cut down on problems with the previous version. Unlike the original Secret, V2 will be wholly funded through Byttow, skirting clear of venture capital investments. This will take investor input out of the equation and leave profits up for donation to charities and humanitarian causes, like ACLU and Planned Parenthood, both of which are threatened by Trump's presidency. Currently, Byttow runs a content creation service for enterprises called Bold, and says that Secret V2 will be built and run by another team. The new Secret will go up against similar platforms, like YikYak and Whisper.

I leave you with powerful words from Byttow:
People don't have a good space to be their most authentic selves, especially to people they know. There is too much fear, and there is too little self-awareness. We need more self-awareness, starting with Silicon Valley. We are in a bubble. F**k the bubble.The truth wants to be set free. Only then can we begin to understand and only then can we heal and work together. 

Facebook has supposedly always been about openness, about disclosure, about freedom of information. These are its foundational tenets, or at least the platitudes spouted by Zuckerberg to prise private data from billions the world over. And yet, despite this professed protection of the human right to share and express, the social network has apparently been developing a censorship tool in order to make inroads into the massive Chinese market, according to The New York Times.

Allegedly, the software will allow Chinese authorities to block posts from appearing in the news feeds of people in certain geographic areas. This disclosure comes from several current and former Facebook employees, who asked for anonymity as the tool's development was confidential.

Facebook would avoid being directly responsible, according to the report, by leaving the actual blocking to a China-side company, and would merely supply them with the tool to do it. The Chinese company could then monitor trending topics and posts, suppressing them at will.

In fact, Facebook is already blocking content in certain countries such as Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey, where compliance with government requests can lead to a takedown of supposedly inflammatory content. That's different from building a tool to allow the government to censor at will, though.

The informers from Facebook were, however, keen to point out that the tool is only in the development stage, and there's no guarantee that it will ever be rolled out on its giant suppression mission.

Facebook themselves remained relatively coy on this issue, stating that "we have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country," adding that the company had as yet made no decisions as to how it will approach the notoriously difficult Chinese internet arena.

If they do take the decision to push forward with the censorship tool, this obviously marks a glaring human rights issue, with Facebook potentially willing to compromise its commitment to free communication in order to access the huge Chinese market. What's worrying is how Zuckerberg has recently been cosying up to Chinese officials, even meeting China's Head of Propaganda during a visit to Beijing.

State suppression of social media is a hugely pressing issue in contemporary society, with most major protests and movements organised using various platforms. Authoritarian governments are therefore correspondingly desperate to get their grubby iron mitts all over it to undertake surveillance and suppression of dissent. Just look at the situation in Russia, for example, where LinkedIn was banned, ostensibly over server location issues, but more realistically as a warning to larger platforms that allow Russian users too much freedom of expression.

If this machinery ever does make it out of the Facebook basement (The Facement?), so much for the Facebook mission statement "to make the world more open and connected." We can only hope that the general public is aware enough and disturbed enough to put pressure on Facebook, lest some Pandora's Box of censorship is opened by the biggest social media platform of all.

We know Twitter's been struggling recently, whether with curing its troll infestation or its plummeting stock prices. However, even given its troublesome travails, giving its CEO a taste of the banhammer seems a little harsh, no? Yet that's what just happened, albeit accidentally.

Today, with absolutely no ceremony, CEO Jack Dorsey's Twitter account was completely suspended:

Thankfully, for Dorsey, within just a couple of hours the mistake was noticed and rectified, with the Twitter CEO trying to joke it off with a callback to his very first tweet:
Yet despite the levity, Dorsey must be at least a little miffed, with his follower numbers dropping by a whopping 700,000. Surely all of these can't have been down to the suspension, so perhaps the same technical glitch that banned the head honcho in the first place is to blame for the huge dropoff.

It's not the first time Twitter has given Dorsey the cold shoulder. Back in 2008, the board essentially fired him due to their issues with his management style, leaving him with only a "passive chairman role and a silent board seat." Before that, he had been integral to the inception and development of the platform. Yet just as this account suspension was temporary, Dorsey weedled his way back into the company as Executive Chairman in 2010, before eventually returning to the CEO role last year.

Dorsey's not the only one being banned at the moment, with some much more justifiable targets feeling the wrath of Twitter as the company continues to implement further measures to deal with trolls. This is particularly pertinent in the current political climate, with "alt-right" trolls seeming to take some legitimacy from it and spewing hate speech online. Those targeted include the white nationalist Richard Spencer, supposed “founder of the alt-right.”

Twitter's not the only social network struggling with its CEO-targeting tendencies, with
facebook killing Zuckerberg, along with everyone else in the world. Could this be the first signs of an internet AI insurrection? Or perhaps the latest Russian cyberwarfare tactic? Regardless, let's hope Twitter doesn't get put off from swinging the banhammer, just maybe a little more discriminately.

"Not sure if fake news or real..." - img: BBC
Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suggested a resolution to the apparent fact that fake news swung the results of the US Presidential election. Basically: "meh."

But it seems you can't please all of the people all of the time - because many weren't 100% satisfied with that. So, in the wake of a massive public outcry, Mr Zuckerberg has come back from the drawing board with another potential remedy: a seven-point plan released on Saturday which is designed to curtail the circulation of phony facts (and maybe opinions) on the site. All of which has been greeted by a resonant "meh" of our own.

But we should be payin' attention. So, let's start with the facts (if they can so be called). Facebook's plan: 

     1 - 'Stronger detection.' Facebook says it will improve its capacity to 'classify misinformation' using 'better technical systems to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves.' So, that probably means more algorithms scanning posts and preemptively flagging them for human analysis.

     2 - 'Easy reporting.' It's already painfully easy to report something as 'fake' on Facebook, but  they're going to make it even easier. It couldn't hurt - but maybe the problem lies elsewhere...

     3 - 'Third party verification.' Ah, now we're talking. Facebook's already reached out to some 'respected fact checking organizations' to filter phony information; but now it plans 'to learn from many more.' So, more of the same is coming our way. 

     4 - 'Warnings.' The official release says: 'We are exploring labeling stories that have been flagged as false by third parties or our community, and showing warnings when people read or share them.' Right, so, we'll be seeing fake/real or true/false labels on our news stories. See below for how this is potentially really bad news. 

     5 - 'Related articles quality.' Facebook will be 'raising the bar for stories that appear in related articles under links in News Feed.' That really doesn't make sense. Will they be making sure the stuff displayed as 'related news' is less or more similar to the original thing? If it's the latter, won't that make the 'echo chamber' thing worse? If the former, what exactly are they going to choose? There's a lot of stuff out there. But maybe they mean they're just going to make sure 'related' articles are only ever those which come form mainstream news media. (No rebellion here!) 

     6 - 'Disrupting fake news economics.' This is basically an expansion of the crackdown they announced last week on the advertising capacity of fake news sites, as well as the introduction of 'better ad farm detection.' 

     7 - 'Listening.' Finally, Facebook pledges to 'continue to work with journalists and others in the news particular, to better understand their fact checking systems and learn from them.' It makes sense as a necessary step; seeing as how this is the first time Facebook has really seen a big backlash regarding fact checking. 

Okay, that's the list. You can read the original source here (which I'd recommend, considering I've been putting it in my own words). The first question to arise from all that: should we give Facebook the benefit of the doubt?

On the one hand, Mark Zuckerberg is trying his darnedest to resolve an issue to which there is no easy fix. The more Facebook intervenes in our consumption of news, the more people like me are going to say 'you're encouraging people not to think for themselves'; or 'objectivity is unachievable'; or, perhaps eventually, 'you're censoring our input to suit your own agenda.' But if they do nothing, they'll be seen as ignoring user demands - and people like me will say 'you're an unaccountable corporation that doesn't listen to the people who depend on you.' How can they win?

Short answer: they can't. And that's what's really interesting about this whole fiasco. No fix will please all of the people. So, by coming up with a Seven-Point Plan of Action, Facebook has broadcast the notion that it's in control of the situation; even though its plan satisfies only some of the people, and probably won't work.

Still, that's the best they're going to get.

So, the next question we have to ask is: what does this mean going forwards?

We have to understand first that Facebook will only have the resources to fact-check a certain amount of news. Whatever the plan, it won't lead to a completely 'verified' social media experience. Facebook will have to choose which facts are checked and which are not. There's no longer the dual-faceted Trump-Clinton dichotomy: people have gone back to thinking about a billion things at once instead of just two; and there are usually more than two sides to an argument anyway.

Maybe Facebook will decide that fact-checking only applies to stories with x level of popularity. But, equally, they might just use their own discretion to decide what they scrutinise and what they let through. Like airport security. Which is never controversial.

Beyond that, however, the million-dollar question: will the new plan lead Facebook to start filtering opinions and narratives, rather than just the facts from which they are drawn? 

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