January 2017

Password security is a big concern on social media. You can make your password as complicated as you want, but there's always a risk that someone might hack your account, no matter how many weird and wonderful characters you might incorporate. In the latest security update, Facebook have introduced an option that significantly reduces that risk.

Now, you can use any USB key with a U2F, or 'Universal Second Factor' function, as a physical key to go along with your password. It's a more convenient system than an authenticator code, since it doesn't really on you having to check an SMS message or an email, and it also means that anyone trying to break into your account would have to have also stolen the key from you. Hackers aren't usually in any kind of close proximity.

This is, of course, only really applicable to desktop browsing. You can use a security key wirelessly if you have one with NFC functionality, but you'll also need an Android phone with Chrome on it. Even with that in mind, it's a welcome addition to Facebook, and has been proven to be effective on Google services and Dropbox.

In the past few years, password theft has become a far wider issue, not only for individuals but for large corporations. Even this week, several Twitter accounts linked with the WWE were hacked by OurMine, a hacker group who infamously break into famous accounts to reveal their weaknesses. In this case, OurMine have claimed that all they had to do was break into one WWE account, which linked them to the rest.

Having something as fast and simple as a security key will hopefully remove a lot of that risk for Facebook users, especially given the fact that security keys usually also boast extra authentication options like one-time passwords. This could be especially useful for anyone who uses Facebook on lots of different computers. Currently, only the most recent version of Chrome and Opera support the feature, but it probably won't be long before other browsers follow suit.

Image Source: New York Magazine
If you hadn't noticed, Trump's first few weeks in office aren't exactly running smoothly, thanks in part to his refusal to accept that his inauguration pulled a (much) smaller crowd than Obama's. Sadly, he now has the authority to actually silence some of the people who call him out on his favourite haunt - Twitter.

One of the many accounts to retweet the now famous image of Trump's crowd vs Obama's was the official National Park Service. The NPS is responsible for the care of all the federal preserved land in the United States, which is a pretty big deal if you care even a little bit about environmental conservation. Trump is clearly more concerned with his own rep, as shortly after the retweet, the NPS account was temporarily suspended and the offending tweets were taken down. How's that for freedom of speech.

Since going active again, the NPS have started being a lot more cautious, but something else rather wondrous has happened. One of the NPS's underlings - the aptly named Badlands National Park in South Dakota - decided to counter this by tweeting heavily about environmental issues, the kinds of issues which Trump's cabinet has so wilfully failed to address.

Once again, the tweets were removed, but a couple of days later, there they were again. They stayed up long enough to get people's attention this time, as they were screencapped and spread across the internet. The official Badlands account is now almost completely devoid of any environmental posts, but a number of unofficial ones have emerged, and they're saying pretty much whatever the hell they want.

Some of these, particularly @BadlandsNPS, seem intent on unabashedly tearing into Trump and his cabinet, while others are more straight laced, but this isn't an isolated occurrence, oh no.

Scientists from NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Weather Service and a number of other groups have also launched unofficial Twitter accounts with Trump set squarely in their crosshairs. Most of the chatter is against the restrictions being placed on the official accounts, preventing them from discussing basically any and all environmental issues.

Many of the tweets have gone out with either #resist or #resistance affixed to them, adn the movement is only gaining ground with time. Some have speculated that the reason all this muzzling is happening is because Trump is planning on pulling the funding from huge swathes of conservation initiatives across the US. At least we can take solace in the fact that if that does happen, he'll struggle to keep it quiet.

The Odyssey Online
I'm far from the first person to say that social media platforms blind their users to the views of others by enveloping them in an echo chamber. Many believe that social media builds walls, not bridges, cloistering those of similar mindsets and interests together and attributing to the misguided belief that everyone thinks the same way. The overwhelming effect that digital can have on the public at large is unnerving at best and detrimental at worst. We are new entrants in the digital era, and there is a steep learning curve.

Odyssey is a social website aimed at combating the divide. On the exterior it resembles a news site, replete with different kinds of articles, many of which concern America's new president. Nearly all content is comprised of opinion pieces where writers extrapolate on deep, meaningful topics, like whether Coachella attendance equates to backing owner Philip Anschutz's right-wing beliefs (he financially supported anti-LGBTQ groups).

A screenshot displaying various articles.
Odyssey doesn't shove differing viewpoints down readers throats; instead, it presents a full picture by featuring pieces from all sides of the argument. Going off of articles you've chosen to read, it presents opposing viewpoints on the same page. By jumbling everyone in the same pot (feminists, those weary of feminism, participants of the Women's March), Odyssey expects to get some pretty adversarial content out of its readers/contributors taking it one step closer to fulfilling its goal: presenting a complete picture.

As it stands, Odyssey is targeted towards young millennials who want a platform to share unabashed and honest opinions. Users are encouraged to respond to articles with their own well-written piece. Any responses must go through the site's editing process and contributors are required to sign up with a community (i.e. college). While encouraging the most socially-active, college-aged demographic to write does seem like a capital idea on the surface, it is a tad limiting; there are plenty of millennials who are no longer in college or living in their college town who may be interested in contributing. Additionally, wouldn't limiting the pool of writers to a certain age group vastly slant the content? There is the option to create a new community, but that path does not seem as well-explored as the traditional college route.

The algorithm behind Odyssey is unlike any other platform of its kind. Where Instagram's algorithm, modeled after Facebook, factors in content you've liked previously to filter the content shown to you in Discover, Odyssey displays articles that are diametrically opposed to the reader's personal opinions. It is this multi-layered source of information that "democratizes content, giving people the opportunity to share what's most important to them and their communities, enriching everyone with broader, more honest perspectives."

Evan Burns, Odyssey's CEO and co-founder commented on the reason behind his site: "They felt things weren't being covered from their perspective, or that they just weren't being understood. Our site gives a platform for their voices."

The site was launched before the 2016 United States presidential election as an avenue to lessen the echo chamber effect. It boasts 30 million active users each month with 50,000 pieces created in that time frame. David Krupnik, director of research and insight, commented on the figures, "What stood out to us was how people were interacting ... Supplying opposing responses to articles on the page allowed creators the chance to respond to that response."

The new method of interaction has forced Odyssey to create "Venn diagrams that didn't exist before," as people engage in "conversational chains ... created through these essays." Hopefully, the demand for more realistic availability of information marks the turn into a new era of digital content democratisation. Let us follow your lead, Odyssey.

The Odyssey Online app can be found here.

Snapchat are continuing to take care of housekeeping ahead of their IPO. The latest measure is an interesting one: a new set of guidelines for anyone publishing content on Snapchat Discover. Now, anything which is devoid of 'editorial value', won't be allowed through the gates, which in this case means any violent, explicitly sexual or profane content, unless the content is especially relevant to the article in question.

Explicit images which appear in a newsworthy article will have an obscuring warning banner over them, there are also plans to give publishers the means to 'child lock' their content so that only over 18s can view certain content. Given that Snapchat Discover partners include The Sun, Vice and BuzzFeed, these changes are unlikely to pass by unnoticed.

Judging from statements made by Snapchat about this, it seems like they're keen to make sure that Discover remains a credible and reliable news source. The fact that they've already been sued once for allegedly allowing minors to access explicit content probably has something to do with it as well.

Press regulation is dodgy territory, but as much as it might look like it, Snapchat aren't trying to muzzle anyone, it's just making sure that none of the publishers take advantage of the service to publish material that's useful for them, but not the audience. In layman's terms - no clickbait, no image-laden non-stories. Any decent publisher shouldn't have any problem with that.

It's a frightening time to be an American, especially if you're anything other than white. President Trump's rhetoric about Mexicans isn't exactly open to interpretation, and since his election racist incidents have been on the up. Even Obama struggled to stem the tide of white supremacy, racially motivated assaults and worse, and something tells me Trump isn't going to make any attempt to better him on that front.

So, what to do? Well, Black Lives Matter is still campaigning actively, and the latest chapter in that tale is a canny reworking of Facebook's 'safety check' tool. In this version, users can log onto to Facebook and mark themselves unsafe. It doesn't mean that the person in question is in direct or immediate danger, it's intended to represent the fact that people of colour don't feel safe in their own neighbourhoods.

The app has only been active for a few days, but if it catches on, Facebook feeds could soon be populated with maps of the United States littered with 'unsafe' areas. The term itself is fairly broad, it could refer to a looming threat of violence, a mistrust in the police or even financial instability. When used, the post not only marks the user's location, but also displays this text: "Being Black in America is a national emergency. Black people are being attacked and murdered while doing day-to-day activities. Let the world know how you feel. #BlackLivesMatter #MarkYourselfUnsafe."

Thousands of people have already used the app already, and users who it doesn't directly apply to can also use it to register their support. It's a simple gesture, but a meaningful one. Since Trump's inauguration, people all over the world have been pointedly demonstrating that they won't take prejudice lying down, and this is yet another example.

Facebook is an entity. A powerful platform used by everyone, from those just clearing the age limit, 13, to seasoned veterans of life. It has become the standard of communication, of existence really. And with such an inescapable pull, it's no wonder that four out of five primary school kids have admitted to using social media at least once a day, reports Manchester Evening News.

"We need to accept that our kids love social media and will use it no matter what the age limit is, so my view is, don't ban them, just provide them with a safe alternative that has all of the up sides but none of the down sides," creator Henry Plattan asserts. "Go Bubble is that safe alternative."

Grasping on a need in the market, former police chief and e-safety guru Platten made a new version of Facebook launched specifically for kids aged seven and up. Basically a lite version of Facebook, Go Bubble was created to make social media safe for kids. The app is a product of pupil-led online safety education programme eCadets, of which Platten is the founder. Go Bubble allows students to chat online and share content. However, unlike traditional Facebook profiles, ones powered by this kid-friendly platform will prominently feature school.

Go Bubble
School involvement has a big part in Go Bubble's success as each institution is responsible for signing up its pupils to the social platform. Once a profile is created, with parent approval, the child will have a quick and simple means of communication to interact with classmates in the immediate area or similarly-aged children around the world. As reported by Manchester Evening News, Go Bubble is now being successfully used in schools to aid communication between students for projects, practice cultural exposure, facilitate transnational interactions (i.e. pen pals), teach safe social media use, and exchange messages with parents.

Both versions of Go Bubble, web and app, are free to schools. Parents and children have free access to the web version, but the app costs £3/year.

The platform does away with unwanted friend requests, sensitive content, and cyber-bullying. All posts made on Go Bubble must be approved by the system's safety features which automatically screen for inappropriate video, images, text, audio, and emoji. To ensure that nothing slips through the cracks, a live moderation team monitors content and reviews flagged messages. The Pan European Gaming Information has given Go Bubble a PEGI 3, the safest age rating. This astonishingly safe rating means that the platform is safe for any school age children to use.

"From our experience in supporting schools with their online safety education, we know how important it is that children are given the opportunity for a safe digital playground to connect with all aspects of their life, family, school and sports," Platten told Educate Awards.

In addition to offering children tons of great tools, teachers are given quite a few classroom aids. For example, a teacher can initiate a classroom discussion or facilitate interactive learning through the app.

During the historic swearing in of America's 45th president Donald Trump, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had a bit of uncharacteristic fun. Live footage from the inauguration was broadcast on the BBC News channel, spanning the beginning religious ceremony to President Trump's unusual speech. The closed captions for Trump's speech did not effectively communicate the severity in his words. In ironic contrast, the subtitles displayed were pulled from children's television show, The Dumping Ground. The award-winning CBBC programme is a children's drama following the lives of its characters. At first the subtitles were believed to originate from EastEnders, a British soap opera.

On 20 January, Twitter user @Kaytality uploaded her footage showing the confusing subtitles in all their glory.

As seen in Kayleigh Smirk's post, the erroneous subtitles were shown as Trump and Barack Obama listened to Timothy Cardinal Dolan's delivering prayer.

Daily Mail

The Sun
In response to the sudden fame, Smirk of Southampton told BuzzFeed, "The reaction has been insane, my notifications have pretty much melted at this point. But I'm really glad it seems to have cheered people up regardless!"

And cheer it did.

Below is a full transcript of the BBC subtitles:

"Look, if you ain't seen Sasha, just do one, yeah? No-one wants you here."
"You're only in a mood because Mo's gone."
"Just shut it, yeah?"
"Oi! Leave him alone!"
"Just tell him to get out of my face."
"So it was him in your room." 
"Oh, whatever."
"You can't come here outside of contact, or Mum will get into trouble. Is that what you want? Or for her and Kev to be a family? With you and Murphy and the baby. And me."
"Sasha, hurry up!"
"Stop playing around with Bailey and go home."

In response to the hilarity, the BBC respectfully bustled its skirts, saying, "We have not found any evidence or had other feedback from viewers that our main output covering the inauguration was subtitled incorrectly."The broadcasting conglomerate is currently investigating the issue to see if the error was, in fact, localised.

Speculation on Twitter seems to attribute the problem to Smirk's television wires being crossed.

If you've ever visited a holocaust memorial, anywhere in the world, you probably went in knowing that it was a place to be treated with a certain solemn respect. Well, that is unless you are one of the numerous, rather upsetting people who decided to take a funny selfie while you were there. If that's the case, you'd probably be better off reading a different article, I'm not planning on giving any quarter.

The focal point here is the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, an angular field of 2,711 slabs of concrete. In recent years, it's become something of a hotspot for selfie takers. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if they were just showing their face in the image to demonstrate where they were, but many of these images show people grinning, pulling silly faces, juggling and even doing handstands in the midst of a monument to the lives lost during humanity's greatest atrocity.

Thankfully, this stagnant display of disrespect hasn't gone unnoticed, but beyond mere complaints, Israeli satirist Shahak Shapira decided to mock the mockery, in the form of the 'Yolocaust' website. On it, you'll find selfies taken at the monument, pulled from various social media platforms, and reworked so that the background instead shows photographs of some of the worst horrors of the holocaust.

It's disturbing, doubtlessly, but it expertly frames just how removed some people have become from history, even things that happened some 70 years ago. Shapira doesn't have permission to use any of the images, but a disclaimer at the bottom of the site says that the owners are well within their rights to ask for them to be taken down. The phrase 'poetic justice' is ringing in my ears. It feels nice.

The project is more well timed than even Shapira may have realised, as it comes on the heels of a statement by a politician from the right wing AfD party complained about Germany being the only country with a "monument to shame" at the heart of the capital. It's hard to know how Germans, or anyone should approach discussions about the holocaust, but I think we can all agree that it's not alright to juggle in the middle of a monument to its victims.

Donald Trump's inauguration to the office of President of the United States will be live-streamed globally from Washington D.C. at 12pm local time (5pm GMT) on Friday 20 January via several websites and social media services.

Twitter and YouTube will each serve as platforms through which various media outlets will broadcast the inaugural address, which is expected to draw tens of millions of global viewers. It is also certain that we will then be able to watch the event behind time as copies begin circulating pretty much everywhere online; including through social media, which will, as always, make it very easy to access.

Many are excited for the event. Performers appearing will include the Rockettes and singer Tim Rushlow. There has also been a lot of speculation regarding what Trump might say during his inaugural address; accompanied by various online memes relating to a photograph of the President-elect writing the speech (as could be expected).

However, critics of Trump are also promoting social media as a means to protest against his inauguration. Eddie S. Glaude, Jnr., writing in Time magazine, has called for viewers to boycott the televised event and instead turn to Facebook, philanthropic institutions, and their local communities: 'We should blank out,' he argues. 'We should refuse to watch the Inauguration on television...Engage in some sort of civic activity. Participate in the Facebook telethon and help raise funds for the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Earthjustice. Spend time with the people you love. Disengage from the spectacle. Turn off the television.' 

If social media hasn't revolutionised the way politics works, it can at least be said to have taken it into new frontiers. Twitter was integral to Donald Trump's campaign. It has given us a direct line to the apparently spontaneous thoughts of the President-elect; offering, ostensibly at least, an unprecedented degree of transparency in some respects. Come Friday, in the same vein (and as has been the case before), live streaming has widened the scope by which we can encounter it.

Unfortunately, though, despite a visit to Trump Tower on 13 December, Billboard.com reports that Kanye West will not be performing at the event because, in the words of Tom Barrack, chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, organisers want to keep it 'typically and traditionally American.' Now that's a shame. 

Although its usage rates have plummeted in recent years, many were saddened to see Vine go. Those little 6 second loops provided hours of entertainment, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Vine was a safe haven of simplicity in the increasingly tangled world of video sharing.

Well, it seems like Twitter have pulled a reverse-Frankenstein and dismembered the corpse of Vine so it can be redistributed and thus, saved. Basically, there are two sides to it now: firstly, all videos posted on Twitter which fall below 6.5 seconds loop automatically, just like Vines did. Secondly, we have Vine Camera, a spartan app for iOS and Android which simply allows users to shoot video and upload it to Twitter, but nowhere else. You can add a caption, or switch the account, but those are all your options. The interface remains more or less unchanged from the old Vine one (grid, focus lock, etc).

Vine obviously had a great deal more, and in later life it had some decent editing functionality but this is just point and shoot. Essentially what's happened here is that Twitter have said the final farewell to Vine itself, but ensured that the 6-second loop format remains alive and well on their main platform. That was Vine's legacy, and they're keeping it intact.

Well, intact for the time being. This could just be Vine's "We're going to make you as comfortable as possible" moment, a way to gently uncouple the Vine community from the source without causing too much distress. If that's the case, Vine Camera will likely be a faded, nearly-forgotten memory by the end of this year, and may even get shut down not long after that.

However it ends up, it's nice to see the Vine community being offered something. Snapchat and Instagram may have seen to Vine's demise, but it built up such a strong following that it was never going to just disappear. 'Vine Star' was actually an accepted term for a brief, perplexing moment, and by that token alone its place in history is assured.

If you're an Android user and you need to download the Instagram app, you might want to be a bit careful. A recent research sweep revealed something called Android/InstaZune. It walks and talks like the actual Instagram app, but any hapless individual who downloads it will be asked to hand over their login details, and that'll be that, their details will be fired straight off to the nefarious minds who developed it.

Hacking Instagram accounts is big business, and the easiest way to do it is to trick users into turning details over willingly. Since the news broke, Google have been going through and deleting all the defending apps, but there might still be more lurking around. Deleting phishing apps is a game of whack-a-mole as it is, new ones are cropping up constantly, so it's always important to stay vigilant.

In this particular case it's easy to avoid, it's just a matter of checking the name of the app developer and making sure it actually is Instagram. Anything else is a red flag. It also helps to keep different login details for different platforms/sites, otherwise a hacking opens you up to basically having your entire digital identity stripped away, or worse.

Nobody is 100% safe from a hack, but as mentioned there are plenty of measures you can take against it. Being careful on the app store is a good place to start, it's remarkably easy to develop bogus apps and both the App Store and Google Play are swarming with them. Check reviews and authenticity before downloading anything.

Have you ever scrolled through YouTube wishing you could message other users directly? Do you live in Canada? Well, you're in luck, as YouTube have launched an in-app messaging feature there, but nowhere else as yet. They've been tinkering around with it for months, and Canada makes a good proving ground, being that it has a comparable market to the USA but a far smaller population.

Here's how it works: through one button, users will be able to send videos directly between each other, as well as creating group conversations. The idea is that rather than copying a link out to send it on Facebook, or wherever else, you can just do it straight from the site/app. It always allows for more open discussion about videos, rather than using the comments section, which far too often proves far too much for fragile minds.

Judging from the video, it looks like the feature imports directly from your contacts, but it's unclear whether or not you need to have the YouTube app on both ends for it to work properly, or an account. In any case, it's easy to envision a YouTube with a very active messaging community, in the same way that Facebook became one.

Speaking of Facebook, the floating video function also comes into play here, so if you're in a chat, however roomy, you can move the video around so that it doesn't get in the way all the natter. It's strange that as social media advances, it's almost as if we're making a move back towards chatroom culture. Companies are realising that people are still, in many regards, more interested in personal sharing than blanket sharing. 

Denver Post
Freedom of information has long been a great excuse to have a dig at people (no pun intended). After all, a good storyteller can build whatever kind of narrative they choose, provided they're careful with inclusion and omission of data. Indeed, it's partly from this standpoint that the term 'doxxing' (also 'doxing') first emerged on Reddit.
  • dox (doks) verb. - to collect information relating to an individual and release it freely online. Derived from the abbreviation of "[dropping] documents". Used pejoratively. 

That's the original definition of the term, at least. But, as the Economist points out, journalists have nowadays co-opted the phrase, reinterpreting and redefining it to refer simply to investigative reporting in a more general sense. In essence, the word is now used in a less pejorative way by the media.

However, with this week's announcement by WikiLeaks that it will be pursuing new avenues of information liberation, it seems the power to define the term is being returned to the Redditors - by journalists themselves, no less. Well, it's clear why ...

This week, WikiLeaks' Twitter page briefly flashed with a tweet claiming that the whistleblowing organisation (which has swift become a force for keeping the public informed of the information which it deems to be relevant ... much like a media outlet, but let's not go there) would be compiling an online database of all 'verified' Twitter accounts, with their "family/job/housing/financial relationships."
As tech news site Recode was quick to note, the list of Twitter's verified users "includes a ton of journalists, politicians and activists." No wonder various arms of the media are now quickly denouncing the move in the language Redditors originally intended. 

The tweet was swiftly deleted by WikiLeaks; but the controversy had already begun. 

In an attempt to justify the idea, WikiLeaks stated its aim was "to develop a metric to understand influence networks based on proximity graphs." Which makes sense; after all, the whole ethos underlying Assange's project is to expose corrupt and scandalous underbellies. It's most likely the intention was to use such information to help WikiLeaks substantiate an elaborate picture of the networks which exists between certain shady, powerful individuals.

However, the process would also involve a big stripping-back of the privacy of many influential people - including journalists. And that's got them spooked.

So, we arrive at the least important albeit funniest aspect of the story - the fact that the word is being redefined! Aha, what fun.

Right, I'm off to set up a private server in my basement and delete all my public profiles.

Technology companies creating 'backdoors' for government agencies and other third parties to use in order get around passwords and other privacy measures was a big worry among tech users through 2016. Following a mass shooting in San Bernardino at the end of 2015, Apple resisted huge pressure from the FBI to create a means to bypass security features and gain access to information in the attacker's iPhone via a 'backdoor' into the device. (Then the FBI managed to break through Apple's privacy defences using Israeli technology and everybody lost interest.) Anyway, now it seems backdoors are back on the front burner, as accusations aimed at the Facebook-owned social media platform WhatsApp emerged last week alleging the company had secretly developed their mobile app with a built-in backdoor, the likes of which James Comey would drool over.

According to a blog post by security expert Tobias Boelter, a bug in the app means that some messages which are sent via WhatsApp can be intercepted and read by the company - even though it flat-out denied that such was the case when it was asked by Boelter back in April 2016. The problem, Boelter claims, comes when encryption keys are reissued.

Speaking to the Guardian (which is calling the flaw a '"vulnerability" rather than a "backdoor") Boelter said“If WhatsApp is asked by a government agency to disclose its messaging records, it can effectively grant access due to the change in keys.” Other privacy campaigners have claimed that such a discrepancy is "a huge threat to freedom of speech" which "could be exploited by government agencies."

In response, however, WhatsApp issued a statement saying: “WhatsApp does not give governments a 'backdoor' into its systems and would fight any government request to create a backdoor. The design decision referenced in the Guardian story prevents millions of messages from being lost, and WhatsApp offers people security notifications to alert them to potential security risks.”

Indeed, the company also reiterated what they told Boelter in April: that it already knows about the bug and hasn't really tried to hide it. It's simply a feature of the app. 

Still, WhatsApp hasn't yet said straight-out that it is, indeed, able to read the messages in question. 

Now, it would be very surprising to learn that WhatsApp, a company renowned for its privacy and high security and end-to-end encryption measures, is in fact intercepting messages sent by its users. It would be even more surprising to learn that such a company would be prepared to share such information with security services. Whilst stranger things have happened, it's worth treating such concerns with a degree of scepticism. There is, after all, no evidence that such harvesting or sharing of data has taken place.

Still, scepticism runs two ways: and it is indeed quite worrying to see ambiguity lingering around whether or not WhatsApp can actually read the messages. In any case, it's also worrying that WhatsApp has simply brushed-off such accusations. After all, even if they are responsibly denying themselves the urge to harvest data and pass it on under the table (which would be approaching the worst case scenario), the capacity to do so is apparently there - and there's little to guarantee that their successors, or indeed their fellow technology companies, would rule as such enlightened despots; and could, in fact, simply use the precedent set by WhatsApp (of shrugging things off in this case) as a justification for their doing the same.

A time-tested tradition seen in the professional sphere as well as in collegiate events, mascot rivalry is baked into most all sporting events. In an ideal world, mascots get the audience pumped for their team and, sometimes, alleviate tension between opposing teams ... or have the opposite effect. When mascots aren't busy rallying the audience, they may engage in mock fights with one another. These fights serve as entertainment for families, lending the cold, adult world some fun-loving, cartoonish antics.

Contrasting sharply is the event that took place at half-time during the NHL Minnesota Wild vs. Montreal Canadiens game. Prior to the intermission, Chicago Blackhawks Tommy Hawk smashed birthday cake in Minnesota Wild Nordy's face backstage, inciting the subsequent beating on the ice.

For many, the joke was taken beyond playfulness and was an act of unmitigated violence. Following an unfavourable news column in the Chicago Tribune and an unhappy response on social media, the NHL contacted the professional hockey team and asked for an explanation. The Wild issued the following statement: "We apologize to anyone offended by the mascot skit Thursday night. It was certainly not our intention."

The skit started out simply enough with multiple mascots gathering to celebrate Minnesota Wild mascot Nordy's birthday.  Presumably, Nordy was blindfolded before being handed a baseball bat. Tommy Hawk, mascot of the Chicago Blackhawks, held a pinata aloft, dangling it from a line attached to the end of a hockey stick. Nordy takes a swing and ... wallops Tommy Hawk with a direct hit to the stomach. Yowza. The bat drops to the ice as Tommy Hawk doubles over in supposed pain. Nordy takes advantage of the situation, quickly stooping for the bat before launching a direct hit on Tommy Hawk's exposed back. And down the bird goes.

In the foetal position on the cold, hard ice, Tommy Hawk can only cringe in turn as Nordy wails on him again and again with the bat. He's hit eight more times, suffering blows to his elbow, torso, knees, buttock and shin. All the while, the announcer is encouraging the beating: "Nordy, you hit the pinata! Keep swinging, keep swinging. You almost broke it open!"

At the end of the unsettling scene, Nordy drops the bat and is pulled away by the New Jersey Devils mascot, the NJ Devil. Tommy Hawk lies prone on the ice, playing dead.

Twitter weren't too happy about it.

Actually, quite a few supported the skit.

All in all, the entire affair did prompt some relevant and highly amusing jokes.

"You're fake news" - Donald Trump to CNN at first press conference as President Elect - img: CBS
In its latest bid to satisfy demands for a crackdown on fake news, Facebook announced plans this weekend to introduce special online tools in Germany "in the coming weeks" designed to tackle the spread of misinformation. The latest move builds upon the introduction of similar tools in the US back in December. This will be their first appearance in Europe, and will come just before Germans go to the polls.

They work via the tried and tested system of user flagging. Users of the site will have to highlight any story they consider to be false - that is, to contain fabricated facts. Flagged stories will then be passed on to a team of third-party fact checkers. If they also deem the facts underlying the story to be made-up, they will label the story "disputed" in its future appearances on our newsfeeds.

Fake news has long been an issue for social media companies. In September, Facebook and Twitter joined the huge, Alphabet-led 'First Draft' coalition which aims to tackle the proliferation of fake facts and whose other members include the Washington Post, CNN, Buzzfeed, the Telegraph and the New York Times. However, worries turned into a crisis after the shock win for Donald Trump in the US Presidential Election in early November. Later that month, after two weeks and an initial "meh" from Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook announced a seven-point plan for upcoming strategies for a fake news crackdown.

The latest move is a crucial step in consolidating Facebook's initial response to the crisis, which sought to ameliorate its primary concern at the time of muffling the outcry, calming investors and making sure users didn't eschew social media. It's now time to follow-through on some of the promises it made. Indeed, it's also a clever compromise in some ways. By putting the onus of rooting-out fake news onto users rather than its own admins, for example, Facebook will be able to dodge a certain degree of responsibility when it is (inevitably) asked why they haven't erased every shred of non-fact-checked information on the site.

On that point, it's also worth noting just how hard it is to crack down on fake news. Limited resources alone make any fact-checking organisation limited in its capacity to filter information. Indeed, when it was announced last week that the BBC would also be expanding its existing fact-checking service, news chief James Harding asserted that: 'The BBC can’t edit the internet, but we won’t stand aside either. We will fact check the most popular outliers on Facebook, Instagram and other social media.' 

But practical concerns are only part of the problem. Many, for example, regard with anxiety the idea of handing a huge corporation like Facebook the power to censor news items. Still, regardless whether Facebook's fix carries bad implications for democracy and public information, the rolling-out of fake news prevention tools, whilst ultimately flawed, is the best way forwards for Facebook as a company hoping to weather the storm of controversy which, as is elucidated by Donald Trump's ongoing commentary and the upcoming grilling faced by social media companies before British MPs, still remains very much a part of the public consciousness.

Times of Israel
Hamas militants, posing as attractive women on Facebook, have allegedly persuaded dozens of Israeli soldiers to install spyware on their phones in an attempt to gather intelligence, it emerged this week. The honey trap was reported by an anonymous Israeli officer, who claimed the catfishing predominantly affected low-ranking, younger troops - those most active on social media and most susceptible to scams. Hamas has not commented on the issue, and it is unclear how the Israeli officer concluded the scammers were members of Hamas.

In his report to journalists on Wednesday, the officer claimed the deceit involved Hamas militants stealing the identities of real women, whose photographs and personal details were lifted from social media sites (predominantly Facebook). They then approached Israeli troops online and struck up conversations, some of which were substantial in length. After winning their trust, militants persuaded the troops to download an application which they claimed would facilitate a video chat.

In reality, it allowed Hamas scammers into Israeli phones, the source said.

The officer reporting the revelations claimed Hamas' motive was to gather intelligence and access details of military maneuvers. However, it remains unclear how far the app allowed the scammers to hijack their target devices and gather such information. Most media outlets claim that Hamas managed to "hack into" and "take control" of Israeli phones using a "virus". However, they do not go into any further detail. Indeed, the officer stressed that the impact had been "limited" and was now contained - leaving room for speculation regarding how far the hack went beyond spyware in phone cameras.

That's not to say Hamas lacks the capacity for complex web attacks. According to Business Insider, Hamas has previously launched a slew of cyber attacks on the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) with the backing of Iran.

This, however, is a different kind of conflict. "The enemy knows the language of young people and installed viruses that can control the telephones of dozens of soldiers," the source told reporters on Wednesday. "The existing potential threat can turn into a real threat to the security of Israel." 

Social media is increasingly a sphere in which modern human activities are playing out, good and bad. It's a new sphere for all kinds of discourse, from casual conversation to politics and warfare. It's quickly absorbing what chunks it can of our many indulgences and struggles. The world, basically, is getting really weird one hack at a time. 

Most every modern mobile phone comes equipped with a fingerprint sensor. A quick scan is all it takes to unlock the phone, gaining access to private pictures, payment details, and personal information. Setting a device to unlock only after scanning a 100% match to your unique fingerprint is ironclad in theory. However, as often is the case with futuristic technology, there are complications.

Far from being foolproof, fingerprint technology has proven itself susceptible. To gain access to a fingerprint-locked phone, hackers need only use a 2D fingerprint printed with an ink that conducts electricity when put on special paper. Hackers can recreate any fingerprint with electronically-charged ink and special paper.

Researchers tested these printed fingerprints on a bevvy of mobile devices and found that the fakes had sporadic success, unlocking the Samsung Galaxy S6, Huawei Honor 7, iPhone 5s, Meizu MX4 Pro and a couple popular Android models. While they assert that "not all the mobile phones can be hacked" using printed fingerprints, "it is only a matter of time before hackers develop improved hacking strategies not just for fingerprints, but other biometric traits as well that are being adopted for mobile phones (e.g. face, iris and voice)."

Recently, the National Institute of Informatics in Japan warned that flashing the peace sign can give hackers all the information they need to replicate fingerprints. Thanks to our high-quality smartphone cameras, an image of fingers can actually capture fingerprint data, according to Professor Isao Echizen. The image doesn't have to be a close-up either; photos taken up to three metres away are enough to show off your finger folds to potential hackers. For anyone with a Facebook gallery loaded up with images of peace signs, this poses a problem. As Echizen says, a stolen password can be changed, but fingerprints last a lifetime.

The ubiquitous peace sign is seen round the world, but is especially prevalent in Asia. As such, the National Institute of Informatics is creating a transparent film that will adhere to fingers to mask fingerprints. Unfortunately, this invention is not set to release for another couple years.

As faster methods of payment increase in popularity - contactless, Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay - fingerprint authentication is adopted into mainstream convention. Banking institutions, paragons of formality and tradition, are catching on to the trend and allowing customers to identify themselves with fingerprint, voice, and facial recognition. Embracing new technology sets society on the road to advancement, safety should be considered just as thoroughly.

Img: TheNextWeb
Facebook Pages has been given the Live treatment, and it's about time. Pages can now live-stream from desktops and laptops. Streaming supports peripheral cameras and built-in laptop cameras. First tested in September, the feature is now rolling out on a wider scale, though general users still do not have access. Long before it went into testing, the feature was seen in May on the Facebook app for Windows 10.

To ensure that a Page's video content is easy to view, Facebook is creating a permalink URL. Clicking the link will access the current live-stream and display past live-streams and any other videos connected to the Page. Additionally, comments can be pinned to the bottom of live-streams.

Not only will Pages be able to lend a more personal touch with the addition of live-streams, tools are available to foster engagement.

  • Page admins can set Live contributors, allowing multiple Facebook account holders to broadcast for a Page. 
  • Lightweight insights are available for Pages with 5,000 followers or more: 
    • Total minutes viewed
    • Total number of views
    • Total engagement (reactions, comments and shares)
  • Aggregated insights will accompany videos at weeklong, monthlong, and two-month periods. However, this feature is only available to those using Facebook's "Mentions" app, primarily celebrities and public figures. 
Read all about the new features here.
In basic terms, Pages is a tool for brands, businesses, and public figures to create an online presence. A Page can be managed by multiple account holders, unlike a normal profile which is controlled by one person. Liking a Page will yield updates displayed on a person's News Feed and alerts to live-streams.

America watched tearfully as the eight-year-beloved president, Barack Hussein Obama Jr., gave his farewell address to the nation. The event took place on the night of 10 January in Chicago, not his birthplace or childhood hanout, but the place "where [he] learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved." Orating as only Obama can, with fitful pauses and refinement (the occasional stutter as well), he delivered a heartfelt outpouring, drawing attention to his fears for the future of democracy. Full of bittersweet emotion, his speech serves as the closing curtain, the end of an era.

Of more concern to the public was the glaring absence of a very important member of the Obama family. Older sister Malia, 18, grandmother Marian Robinson, and mother Michelle were all present in the audience, eyes appropriately brimming with tears. President Obama's 15-year-old daughter, Sasha, was not sitting with the rest of the family.

The speech was well-received, McCormick Place convention center ringing with chants of "four more years!" from passionate audience members. However, a social media storm began to brew, inciting #WhereisSasha and #WheresSasha.

As fire takes to kindling, Americans stormed to social channels to voice their opinions and crack jokes.

After much fun is had on Twitter, a White House official revealed that Sasha was home in D.C. on account on an exam the following morning. Rather than quiet the Tweet-storm, Sasha's dedication to school prompted another flurry of hilarity.

At one point, the president addressed both of his daughters, saying "You are smart and you are beautiful but more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful -- and you are full of passion. And bore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad."

As usual, the truth was more mundane than expected, but could have inspired a few students to take their studies more seriously.

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