October 2017

In the US, a much-publicised opioid epidemic sadly continues to ravage pockets of the population. The issue has been plastered across major news networks and even piqued the interest of some accomplished documentary filmmakers; yet despite all the attention being placed upon the issue, citizens from all walks of life continue to fall under the sway of these oft-damaging drugs.

The scope of this issue has now reached a truly-frightening level, with drug overdoses (the majority of which involved heroin and/or prescription opioids) claiming the lives of more than 64,000 people in the US throughout 2016 alone, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention; this constitutes a rise of 21% from the previous year’s figures. Deaths attributed to the use of fentanyl specifically, the drug which is reported to have claimed the life of music industry legend Prince just last year, more than doubled from 2015-2016, and these figures are only expected to rise further once the appropriate health organisations have the time to gather additional data. It is this delay in receiving the relevant data which is thought to be most negatively affecting efforts to address the widening problem.

In light of this fact, researchers in the US are continually looking for more advanced and, importantly, faster methods of collecting data regarding the epicentres of this now-major public health problem in an effort to get ahead of the trend and hopefully stop it in its tracks. Their latest effort involves a combination of two fairly recent technologies; namely artificial intelligence technology and prominent social media platform Twitter.

Approximately 500 million messages are posted to micro-blogging platform Twitter on a daily basis, and this makes the publicly-searchable platform a veritable goldmine of information for those with the inclination to delve into its darker corners. Combine this with the very nature of the platform itself, which encourages short-yet-frequent posts incorporating a variety of topics which often include location data and other demographical information, as well as offering a level of anonymity which encourages a more candid tone, and Twitter soon becomes a particularly reliable source of data.

“There’s a confessional effect,” says study lead Michael Chary, a resident physician in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Queens Hospital. “People may discuss or reveal things on social media that, when directly asked, they may not. There may be a level of candor there that’s not present in the emergency room or internist’s office.”

Manually combing through millions of messages each day is not exactly a feasible proposition, so the researchers utilised AI technology to analyse publicly-visible tweets in the hope of gathering data which could help them to estimate the location and relative prevalence of prescription opioid misuse just as accurately as established epidemiologic studies in a mere fraction of the time. Traditionally, major medical research projects such as the National Survey on Drug Usage and Health (NSDUH) take years to complete, and so the team hoped that by careful analysis of freely available information on Twitter, they could create a form of early warning system which could then be used to better coordinate immediate action such as localised public health campaigns. This would also help to ensure that available resources are spent when and where they are most needed.

“We found that our estimates agreed with [NSDUH] data, suggesting that social media can be a reliable additional source of epidemiological data regarding substance use,” asserts Chary. “We can analyse social media to canvass larger segments of the general population and potentially yield timely insights.”

The method employed by the researchers involved the development of a custom AI software which then  set to work analysing more than 3.6 million tweets, identifying words and phrases thought to refer to opioids or the consumption of, including “dope,” “percs,” “white,” “TNT” and “Captain Cody”. The research also identified relevant slang terms previously unknown to the team, such as the fact that fentanyl can also be referred to as “dummies”, and that codeine also goes by the names of “syrup” or “Tango and Cash”.

Of course many of the above terms can also refer to perfectly innocent or unrelated substances and/or actions – take syrup as an example – so the team’s next task was to distinguish to those tweets which were relevant to their research from the innocuous content via the analysis of previously identified word-use patterns. The AI performed this task diligently, providing results that lined up similarly to NSDUH state-by-state estimates, thereby proving the validity of the data. This was found to be especially true amongst 18-25 year olds, which the Pew Research Center attributed to the fact that 36% of Twitter’s user base are between the ages of 18 and 29.

For those worried that their data may have been used in the study without their consent and that information may have been gathered regarding them specifically, it should be stated that the team followed established medical protocols and keep the identities of individual tweeters anonymous. The team did however acknowledge that it would not be all that difficult to later trace a tweet back to an individual user if a government or law enforcement agency should want to conduct a study of a similar nature.

“Twitter data is high-volume and the content is short-form, brief statements [that] are easier to classify than very long and complex statements,” says Michael Gilbert, a Portland, Ore.–based epidemiologist and social media researcher not involved in Chary’s research. “The combination of the volume of data and the format of the data makes Twitter suitable for machine-learning tools. Are people talking about getting high, controlling pain or some other motivation that is underlying a common behaviour? People are more likely to share certain types of information with their peers than they will with their health care providers.”

Over the other side of the world in China, the social media landscape is very much unrecognisable from our own. Established western platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram hold no domain in these foreign lands; the population instead looks to local offerings such as WeChat and Weibo, the latter of which looks set to make some pretty substantial investments in the near future in an effort to secure the growth of the business.

Weibo is in many ways similar to Twitter, albeit far more profitable than the famously money-shy western alternative, operating at its core as a micro-blogging platform. The site boasts 159 million daily users (361 million monthly) and a reported quarterly profit in the region of $101.1 million, rising from $73.5 million in the previous quarter. With that in mind, it came as no surprise to hear them announce last week their intent to offer up to $700 million in convertible senior notes in order to finance “working capital needs and potential acquisitions of complementary businesses.”

There is no word as of yet on any specific acquisitions to company is looking to make, although it is expected for them to focus on Chinese enterprises in the fields of video and entertainment, in which Weibo is currently achieving solid traction, and ad tech, in which the company has already made some recent investments.

The company themselves credit their substantial jumps in revenue (the previous quarter had seen profits increase by 184% year-on-year) to its surging video and mobile ads business, complimented by the platform’s reputation within its home country as a gathering place for celebrity news amongst the younger generations.

Weibo’s biggest backers are parent firm Sina (media) and e-commerce giant Alibaba, both of which help funnel advertising revenue to the business. Together the two investors own more than 70% of Weibo, as reported by TechCrunch.

Img: Conrad Hotels & Resorts
Instagram is full of stunningly-beautiful images of paradises all over the world, making you wish you were on holiday rather than at your desk eating your packed-lunch; major holiday-envy. The Maldives is a particular holiday destination which many of us lust over, with the bright blue seas, white sand-beaches and shining sun looking like the ultimate relaxing wonderland.

With travel-bloggers are popular on Instagram, it's clear that photography of beautiful places across the world is what people really love to see, and while on holiday, many like to share some snaps of where they visit, regardless of whether they're a travel-blogger or not.

It's safe to say that Instagram-culture is well and truly upon us, and to cater for our social-media addictions, a luxury resort in the Maldives has introduced an unusual - but sure-to-be-popular - service. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Resort now offers 'Instagram Butlers' as part of their Instagram Trail experience, to help you get the most beautiful, like-worthy holiday snaps to truly impress your followers.

The trails take holidaymakers to the most picturesque locations in the resort, with a dedicated 'Instagram Butler', who's tech-savvy and clued up on how to take a great photograph for social media.

Conrad Hotels & Resorts' press release announcing the new trails describes how the service can take visitors "from hidden spots set on the farthest tip on Rangali Island complete with technicolour sunsets to swinging on an Undholi (a traditional Maldivian swing) whilst gazing out over the Indian Ocean, to a fish-eye view from under the ocean in the world's first all-glass undersea restaurant Ithaa."

The trails, while allowing you to explore the most idyllic and Instagrammable settings, are also there to teach you how to capture the best photos, so you can take them yourself next time and on future holidays. The resort also offers the option of  "tee[ing] up their tour with a yoga class directed by the resort's resident yogi where they will be taught the best poses to capture on camera set against a myriad of ocean hues."

So, if you're looking to fill your feed with beautiful photos of you in the bright blue ocean, just head to the Maldives and get yourself an Instagram Butler; luxury, relaxation and top-notch photography skills.

Being a fan of photography, preferring their version of Stories and the artsy features like Boomerang and Layout, I've said previously that Instagram is my favourite app. However I've found that the new feature which Instagram have brought out is pretty underwhelming.

Superzoom is an option alongside Boomerang, Rewind and Hands-free etc. on the Story camera. Launched at the end of last week, the feature is there for users to make "a funny video with dramatic sound effects", easily. Instagram comments:

"You can make a Superzoom of anything — your selfie, your friend’s goofy face or even your half-eaten sandwich. As always, you can send your video to your friends on Instagram Direct or add it to your story."

The idea behind the feature is a good one; zooming into someones face can make pure comedy gold, made popular by that old-school chipmunk video, and that vine of the girl with the snazzy sunglasses on, with a-Ha's 'Take on Me' playing in the background...iconic.

However Superzoom isn't as effective as it could be in my opinion; I think manually-zooming in on the regular camera feature gives a funnier effect, as you can alter the speed of the zoom; but that's just me.

While I'm not totally sold with the feature, see some Twitter-user's reactions to the feature...

The feature I am pretty impressed with is that when you film a three-to-fifteen second Superzoom video, suspenseful audio automatically plays in the background, which adds comedic value and is comparable to the chipmunk video. To film a three-second video, press the record button once; to film an up-to-fifteen-second video, hold it down, prolonging the end, zoomed-in frame.

Instagram's product manager Jyoti Sood told Tech Crunch that Superzoom was inspired by users already zooming in for comedic effect: “Time and time again, we have seen people using Instagram’s camera to zoom in on their friends to capture and create funny moments. We wanted to make it easier for them to do that in our camera while also offering a playful new touch with sound.”

I do think with further customisation options, like choice of music and the ability to alter zoom-speed, this could be pretty effective and fun feature which stands out in the social-media crowd. What are your thoughts?

Img: WhatCulture.com 

On October 25th, well-known YouTube personality Adam Blampied, who previously achieved massive success with the popular channel WhatCulture.com before parting ways and heading over to his new project, ‘Cultaholic’, released a lengthy statement via Twitter that certainly caught the attention of fans and critics alike, particularly in the wake of still-emerging allegations regarding the behaviour of prominent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Within his statement Blampied admitted to, on several occasions, manipulating his female fans into sending him explicit images of themselves via online channels. He reportedly pressured these women into performing acts that many where uncomfortable with, persistently messaging until he got what he craved. As if this situation wasn’t ugly enough, he also engaged in these activities while in an established relationship – he falsely claimed to the aforementioned fans that this was an “open” relationship, but has now admitted this too was a lie.

You can view Blampied’s full statement in the following tweet:

I must admit, as a long-time fan of both WhatCulture’s channel and Blampied himself, as well as many of his ‘Cultaholic’ colleagues, this news came as something of a shock for me. Sadly this is far from the first report of a prominent YouTube personality taking advantage of their position to facilitate the exploitation of their fans, usually young females – which perhaps indicates a larger problem throughout an industry in which direct communication between presenters and fans is not only desired, but expected. What isn’t expected however is for said contact to devolve into such misogynistic and damaging behaviour.

Blampied followed up his statement with a series of tweets in which he urged his fans and followers not to judge or attack the women who have since come forward, and to instead place the blame upon him and not attempt to defend his actions.

“I’m going to go away after this,” wrote Blampied. “I just wanted to say one more thing. Please don’t attack the women for speaking out.

“They have been hurt, by me. There has been enough hurt. Please don’t post something that could harm people who have a right to their anger.

“The purpose of this was not to get points, and any praise for bravery is well off the mark.

“People being supportive is one thing, but please don’t publicly leap to my defence on this. My behaviour does not warrant it.

“I just wanted you all to know, so that I never hurt anyone again. Please be kind and understanding to the women. More than I was.”

Despite Blampied’s insistence that his fans should not attempt to defend or condone his actions, I have come across a multitude of online comments that attempt to do just that. These (arguably misguided) people assert that as Blampied did not actively force himself upon these individuals in a physical manner, and because they were all consenting and of adult-age, that he did not in fact do anything wrong other than the hurt he caused to his girlfriend. To be honest, many of these comments carry the distinctive stench of victim blaming and seem to intentionally ignore the often-manipulative tactics the YouTube personality employed. Audiences build up a level of familiarity and by extension trust with the YouTube personalities with which they engage on a daily basis, and by intentionally fostering friendships with these individuals purely with the intent of using this relationship to his own advantage, Blampied violated this trust and, make no mistake, fully took advantage of vulnerable fans. True, some of them may have been of sound mind and fully consenting as these people insist, but statements released by those affected clearly show that this was not always the case.

On notable example in this regard is the story of Twitter user @SRbackwards, who released a statement of her own shortly after the news broke in which she pointedly labelled Blampied a “sexual predator” in light of his recent actions.

“About a year ago, a drunk Adam Blampied slid into my DMs and asked me to send him nudes,” she wrote. “I was drunk at the time, which I made clear to him.

“I told him I wasn’t used to this kind of attention, so it was sort of an ego boost for me. He told me it was “nice to break the habit”.

“Knowing that I was 19, drunk, sexually inexperienced and had moral objections to sending him nudes, he continued to try to persuade me. In the end, I relented.

“He was charming, he was the face of a YouTube channel and I'd been a fan of him for a while. He made me feel so good about myself for about six hours, then he made me feel like utter sh*t for months.”

To me, that reads like a clear indication of predatory and manipulative behaviour. If you need further convincing, remember that the story broke when Blampied himself admitted as much.

Both YouTube channels with which Blampied has been associated, namely WhatCulture and the new channel Cultaholic, have released statements of their own regarding the star’s behaviour.

Peter Willis, Director of WhatCulture Limited, told the BBC that Blampied's departure “was not linked to the series of Twitter messages that were published [on Wednesday], nor were we aware of any of the events within those tweets until reading Adam’s own statement.

“WhatCulture categorically condemns all sexual harassment, predatory behaviour and abuses of position and power.”

Cultaholic meanwhile posted the following to their own Twitter page:

Reddit / Facebook
Compared to other social media sites, Reddit is pretty chilled-out about restricting stuff and controlling what users post. Former CEO of the site Yishan Wong, who resigned in 2014, had intended Reddit be a open platform where "You choose what to post, you choose what to read. You choose what kind of subreddit to create.”

However, since Reddit's popularity has grown over the years - there's now almost 542 million monthly users - there have been controls and restrictions put in place, such as quarantining rooms and subreddits, to make the site less likely to offend.

Now, Reddit are stepping it up on removing hate and offensive content on their site. Earlier this week, Reddit admin landoflobsters released a post titled "Update on site-wide rules regarding violent content", which explained how they "will take action against any content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people; likewise, we will also take action against content that glorifies or encourages the abuse of animals."

Reddit users quickly saw that subreddits surrounding white-supremists, Nazis, and other hate-groups had been banned, including r/Nazi and r/whitesarecriminals. However discussion rose in the comments debating why some subreddits are getting banned and others aren't, for example, r/watchpeopledie wasn't being banned, despite being reviewed.

The post continued in saying, "We understand that enforcing this policy may often require subjective judgment, so all of the usual caveats apply with regard to content that is newsworthy, artistic, educational, satirical, etc, as mentioned in the policy. Context is key."

While 'context is key', it makes me wonder in what context 'r/watchpeopledie' is acceptable...Reddit say that hunting and BDSM communities and news about violence and death will "not be impacted by this policy,", so it all seems like a bit of a confusing mish-mash about what's being banned and what isn't at this stage.

A Reddit spokesperson told Buzzfeed "we strive to be a welcoming, open platform for all by trusting our users to maintain an environment that cultivates genuine conversation"

Nintendo/Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp/Screenshot
Nintendo-fan-favourite Animal Crossing is finally coming to mobile, and people are excited to spend their days trading tulips, shells and pears glued to their smartphones. Here's the low-down on Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp.

The fun colourful branding remains the same, and in the game users will create and build their own campsite, making friends and developing the virtual world as they go. The focus of this version is more about helping out your fellow camp members - by requesting and selling items to each other, gaining rewards and boosting friendship levels - building a harmonious, fun animal community.

Customisation is also amped up in the new game; users are able to change gender of their characters, as well as hair colour, eye colour and skin tone.

The game is free to download and play, but there will be in-app purchases. Microtransactions can buy users Leaf Tickets, which can be spent on furniture, or advanced access to in-game events. If you're not keen on spending your money on the game, you can buy furniture, clothing and hairstyles etc. with Bells, which are gained through play; it's only if you fancy splashing the cash and want to advance quicker in the game would you pay for Leaf Tickets.

Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp is to launch late November on iOS and Android and it's safe to say those who loved the game on Nintendo DS are thrilled that an updated mobile version is on it's way...

Said 13 minute trailer, which gives further information on what to expect from Pocket Camp is below:

If you're keen to get the game ASAP, you can explore the Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp website for updates, as well as preregister to be notified when it's available to download.

Animal Crossing say the following, as gamers speculate on the launch of the mobile app:

"In Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, it's up to you to build a fun campsite for you and your friends to enjoy. Stay tuned for all kinds of special events featuring some of your favorite animals!"

Live-streaming is now a common feature on social media, with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all having their own version of 'going live', enabling users to share moments as they happen. Instagram are the first to step-up the feature, by introducing two-person live streaming, encouraging users to 'go Live with a friend' in their newest update.

To add a guest to your live-stream, simply tap the 'Add' icon, which is shown above as two smiley faces at the bottom of the window. You then choose the user you want to add, and both users' followers can view the stream and interact. Any user can leave at any time, and if you want to add somebody else instead after a while, you can do that too.

Joint live-streaming is kind of like video-chatting your friend, with an audience. The feature has uses beyond that though, which really sets Instagram apart from their competition.

Firstly, it allows users to be more social and make use of the Live feature; alone, Live-streaming can seem quite daunting, but with a friend, it may be easier and give more confidence to users to go Live.

Secondly, this feature could be great for influencers and brands. Two-person live-streams are convenient if users can't be together but need to appear together - now they can, virtually. Announcements and open discussions could occur between brands and influencers, potentially boosting reach for one another and creating a social, informal, fun platform.

The feature is available on version 20 of the app on iOS and Android, so if you're looking to try it out, get updating!

Instagram conclude their blog post announcing the update with the following:

"Since introducing live video last November, millions of people have used it to connect with friends and followers in an authentic way. Now, you can have even more fun connecting with people in the moment."

I must start this article off with the admission that I find it somewhat baffling that events such as the Australian marriage equality postal vote are still required. Don’t get me wrong, I recognise that discrimination against LGBTQ communities around the world is still rife, but the fact that modern governments still insist on placing limitations upon personal freedoms for no reason other than the intrinsic nature of the individual in question is truly and downright sickening. Scrap the vote; just change the law, please…

With that being said, it is reassuring to see some of the world’s largest companies and corporations directly pledging support for the “Yes” vote. One notable example of this is Twitter, who recently launched a dedicated “Yes” emoji which will appear in any tweets containing the following hashtags: #EqualityCampaign, #MarriageEquality, #VoteYes, #PostYourYes, #PostYes, and #YesForEquality.

The emoji doesn’t seem to display in embedded tweets outside of Twitter’s own platform, but you can see how it appears in the GIF included atop this article.

As online platforms go, Twitter seems like the ideal home for such supportive media, given its reputation as a hotbed for discussion around such controversial topics. In fact since 1st August, marriage equality has been the most-discussed political issue on Twitter across the whole of Australia, according to Twitter themselves. The platform’s Australian user-base clearly cares deeply about this issue, however with the deadline for postal votes (27th October) fast approaching, the pro-marriage equality campaign is becoming concerned about the complacency of younger voters.

Polls conducted by Newspoll identified that while 66% of individuals between the ages of 18-34 support the idea of same-sex marriage, only 57% have at the time of writing even bothered to post their voting form. Among the over-65s where support for the “No” vote is stronger, 74% have already sent in their vote. This alone could be enough to turn the tide if those in support of equality fail to express these views. Considering Twitter’s widespread popularity among younger demographics and the viral nature of the platform itself, something as simple as an eye-catching emoji could actually work wonders in encouraging these people to vote, thereby strengthening the “Yes” campaign as a result.

Twitter has seen an influx of posts in support of marriage equality from its Australian users in the build-up to the vote, with Twitter themselves commenting on the diverse nature of these supporters and proudly asserting, “There is no one face of equality.” With this I whole-heartedly agree; we all must play our part.

The deadline for postal views to reach the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in order to be counted is 27th October, so those who have not expressed their views and wish to do so had better act fast lest they miss out on their opportunity to vote on this important issue.

When thinking of the largest and most influential tech companies in the world, Facebook and Apple will undoubtedly spring to mind. For that reason alone, it is always somewhat interesting when these two industry giants end up butting heads, as has apparently happened in regards to Facebook’s latest addition, which will not be available to iOS users on launch.

The addition is question is Facebook’s planned content subscription service, which would give users access to premium content from trusted publishers such as the Washington Post, Hearst, and Tronc, all from within Facebook’s own app. Rather laudably they also plan to offer this service for free, taking nothing off the top and instead passing all generated revenue on to the publishers themselves. Apple, however, are refusing to bow to this demand.

Instead, Apple wants to take as much as 30% of all revenue generated via the subscription service. This is in accordance with their existing policies regarding apps uploaded to their platform; however to the average consumer this news will likely carry the stench of shameless money-grabbing practices on Apple’s part.

The tool - which will be integrated into Facebook’s existing ‘Instant Articles’ feature - will present publishers with two different paywall options: the first, dubbed the ‘metered’ version, will allow users to view up to 10 articles per month from an individual publication before they are asked to subscribe for continued access; the second, described as the ‘freemium’ system, will allow publishers to set up paywalls around specific articles.

While Facebook will in fact be directing users onto the publishers’ own websites in order to sign up to these subscriptions, the service still falls foul of Apple’s rules regarding in-app purchases as the transaction is initiated within the Facebook app itself; the fact that users are then redirected to an external site is, as far as Apple are concerned, entirely irrelevant. From a business point of view such policies make sense, as they prevent the developers of other major apps and platforms such as Spotify or Amazon from simply posting a message telling users to sign up via their own website, thereby bypassing the 30% fee administered by Apple.

Industry insiders assert that Google however have no such plans to take any kind of cut from the service on Android systems, and will allow the service to be offered on their own platform without expecting a monetary incentive.

Neither Apple nor Facebook have commented on the ongoing dispute; however Campbell Brown, the former journalist recruited by Facebook to work alongside news publishers in the creation of new content-orientated functionality, did offer the following clarification to Recode regarding the subscription service itself:

“We know subscriptions are an important business model for many in the news industry, that’s why we’ve been working hand-in-hand with publishers to create a product that will drive real value for them. We’re committed to this effort and optimistic that we’ll launch a test on all mobile platforms soon.”

Until such a time as the current disagreement is ironed out however, if such a time does come at all, iOS users will have simply have to do without the new service. Given how much of their market makes use of Apple devices however, Facebook are sure to want to bring the subscription model to iOS as soon as possible; we will try to keep you updated as news emerges.

For all the advantages that social media affords, it is certainly not without its drawbacks, and for those working in particular industries the use of such platforms can be nothing short of a minefield. One such industry is social services; in fact, Code 5.8 of the Code of Practice for Social Workers specifically states that “[Care providers] will not behave, while in or outside of work, in a way which would bring [their] suitability to work in social services into question.” And yes, that rule extends to social media platforms.

In an effort to help those working within the industry to properly navigate the potential pitfalls which come with the use of social media, the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) recently published an updated set of social media guidelines for care workers. The guidance provides advice on using social media in accordance with the SSSC Code of Practice, which sets out the expected behaviours and values of the workforce.

The guidelines cover common queries such as whether social media should in fact be used at all by those in the industry, as well as ethical questions relating to the ‘friending’ of clients on such platforms. The guidelines also discuss the promotion of services and general industry conversation on social media, and what to do if you should become concerned by the comments and/or actions of a colleague.

SSSC chief executive Anna Fowlie commented, “I’m a keen twitter user and it can be a great way to share information, connect with people and promote what you do.

“Most people on our register will use social media responsibly and in line with our standards. However, we know that they often have questions or concerns. This updated guidance will help them use social media in a way that doesn’t conflict with their professional social service role by highlighting the Codes of Practice and the need to use careful judgement when online.

“I hope it gives workers the confidence to use social media appropriately and make the most of it to support their professional practice by connecting with a huge range of people and organisations.”

Also included within the SSSC’s newly published guidelines is an online ‘fitness to practice’ learning resource, which allows participants to react to and make decisions regarding difficult situations which may arise over the course of their career, all within a safe environment with no impact upon the individuals making use of their service. By playing through these hypothetical situations, the hope is that workers will be better able to respond in an appropriate manner should the situation arise for real. Workers are also able to view examples of previous investigations conducted by the SSSC in regards to the social media use of their members in the hope that this will further aid them in avoiding similar issues.

Google have teamed up with bug bounty platform HackerOne to crack down on bugs and security vulnerabilities in their apps - and are offering $1,000 to those who help them out.

HackerOne and Google Play have launched the Google Play Security Reward Program, and it kinda does what it says on the tin; the program is looking to tighten app security, and reward successful hackers in the process. Ultimately, the increased app security achieved from the program "will benefit developers, Android users, and the entire Google Play ecosystem."

The launch shows thirteen Google Play apps are participating, and these were selected based on popularity amongst Android users. The lucky thirteen include popular-dating app Tinder, selfie-lover-favourite Snapchat, cloud storage app Dropbox, and others such as DuoLingo, Headspace and Mail.Ru. Google say that while only thirteen apps are participants at the moment, more will be added over time.

So, how does the program work?

If a security vulnerability is identified by a hacker on one of the participating apps, it must be reported directly to the app-developers who then work with the hacker to investigate and reslove the vulnerability. It's then that the Android security team gain knowledge of the vulnerability and give the $1,000 to the appropriate individual as a thanks for their contribution to making the Google Play ecosystem safer.

Vineet Buch, Director of Product Management at Google Play comments, "As the Android ecosystem evolves, we continue to invest in leading-edge ideas to strengthen security. Our goal is continue to make Android a safe computing platform by encouraging our app developers and hackers to work together to resolve unknown vulnerabilities, we are one step closer to that goal."

The $1,000 reward from Google is additional to the reward from the original app-developers' bounty program, so if you're clued-up on hacking, this could be something that could get you big-bucks for your efforts. Read further information on the program on their launch post here.

When it comes to competing with other social platforms, Pinterest rarely gets copied due to the simplicity and originality of it. However, other platforms are aware of it's success as a standalone, virtual pin-board site, so it's unsurprising they want to dip their toe in the area and cash in on that success too.

Last week news broke of a new feature that Facebook is trialling, which appears to rip off take inspiration from Pinterest and it's popular Boards element. Facebook Sets is being tested in a select few countries, and is essentially a feature where Facebookers can group together posts - photos, videos and statuses - into one 'Set', which can then be shared with others on the platform.

When one of your Facebook friend's creates a Set shared with everyone, you and all of their other friends are automatically Following it, and it'll appear on your News Feed unless you choose to unfollow. Alternatively, create a 'Secret Set' (similar to Pinterests 'Secret Boards') which can just be shared with a select few people; the privacy settings and who sees your Set is up to you.

So, what would you group together in a Set? Perhaps you're fundraising for a good cause and posting progress on Facebook. Make a Set of all of the posts, photos and updates of your fundraising journey over time which you can easily access, and your friends can go directly to if they're interested in how you're getting on.

Or, maybe you have a hobby or passion which isn't to everyone's taste, so make a Set of posts to do with that subject and invite those who share your interest to view it; Sets could work well for targetted sharing.Where it comes close to Pinterest is if it was used for wedding/party planning, recipe ideas etc. Collect these posts and pop them all in one place, sharing with who you wish, much like Pinterest users do.

Facebook provided the following statement about Sets to Tech Crunch:

“We’re testing a way for people to create sets of specific posts, photos and videos for just the friends that want to follow along.”

Given how Facebook’s news feed is generally found awash with various forms of media ranging from a simple photo of your friends’ latest holiday to a VR journey across the wastes of Jakku (as seen during the marketing campaign for Star Wars: The Force Awakens), it is all too easy to forget that when it first began, Facebook was primarily a platform on which to post timely, text-based updates about your daily life, and share those experiences with your network of friends. The Facebook of today is an entirely different beast it seems, but the company do appear to be teasing a return to the classic format at least in some small measure, as they have officially confirmed that they are testing the introduction of self-destructing status updates that will automatically delete themselves after a specified period of time.

The feature was first spotted by a user who subsequently shared a screenshot with BuzzFeed; the publication reached out to Facebook for confirmation, and the company responded with the following:

“We’re testing an update that lets people set a temporary status on their profile to let friends know what they’re doing or feeling in the moment. People have the option to set an expiration date for the status and choose whether or not it appears in News Feed or only on their profile.”

The temporary nature of the posts is certainly reminiscent of the service offered by Snapchat, albeit with less of a visual nature, which should come as no surprise given Facebook’s recent tendency to lift ideas from competitor platforms in a bid to increase engagement and retention among users. The text-only updates are also limited to a maximum of 101 characters, seemingly stepping onto the turf of popular micro-blogging platform Twitter.

The thing is, Facebook can hardly hope to topple Snapchat in the realm of ephemeral sharing, a game that Snap Inc. seem to have long since perfected. Nor are they likely to achieve much success by emulating the features of Twitter; the two platforms have long survived side-by-side since the dawning days of social media’s popularity, and users clearly expect a different service from each.

Criticism aside, I do see how the feature could be useful particularly among younger users, many of whom have fallen victim to the downsides of social media when, for example, expletive-ridden rants posted in their teens rear up during a job application process and prevent them from securing the position. By allowing users to post temporary updates, this element of permanence is removed. Of course other users could still take a screenshot of the message, but this is far less likely to happen.

This new feature could also serve to de-clutter users’ news feeds, bringing Facebook back in line with the more personal, friendship-orientated service it first began life as. I have many friends, family and acquaintances myself who have stepped back from the platform in recent times as they have become increasingly frustrated with the sheer amount of irrelevant content and sponsored ads which permeate the feed, and they would likely appreciate a return to a more simplified service.

Facebook are always bringing out new features to stand out from the rest and keep their crown as the foremost social media platform. If you've read some of our posts in the past, you'll know we analyse and keep note of who's stealing who's ideas in the social media game (it's mostly between Snapchat and Instagram, but Facebook like to throw in their two cents every now and again.)

That being said, while it seems like all apps are morphing into one, the copycat-culture we see across our favourite apps is nothing but healthy competition.Today, we bring you news of Facebook bringing out a new feature to the platform.

If you're an eagle-eyed Facebook-fanatic, you'll know that the Facebook Explore Feed has been available on mobile for a while now (pictured below), but earlier this week, Twitter user Matt Navarra spotted the feature on desktop.

It's comparable to Twitter and Instagram's options; namely Moments and Popular Articles on Twitter and Instagram's Explore tab. Facebook's Explore Feed is tailored to you, recommending you content from a range of sources that isn't on your News Feed. Facebook put together your Explore Feed based on what you've already liked, shared and commented on, resulting in similar posts of things which will interest you.

To access your Explore Feed, you'll find it under 'Explore' (makes sense), on the left hand navigation menu, where you'll also find Events, On this Day, Pages, Pokes (do people still Poke on Facebook?) etc.

When I went to view my Explore Feed on desktop, the first things I saw was a Great British Bake Off news article and a selection of animal-memes; so far, I'm impressed, it seems jam-packed with top-quality content if you ask me.

Before now, the Explore Feed was just a test, but due to its success and it now being available on desktop, it's officially being rolled out. As the new News Feed-alternative gets used, Facebook hope that the time users spend on the platform increases, meaning enhanced user experience and more space for advertising,  monetisation and growth.

A Facebook spokesperson told Tech Crunch:

“We are beginning to roll out a complementary feed of popular articles, videos, and photos, automatically customized for each person based on content that might be interesting to them. We’ve heard from people that they want an easy way to explore relevant content from Pages they haven’t connected with yet.”

It's October, meaning it's getting colder, leaves are falling and - most importantly - Halloween is just around the corner! Time to get the fake blood, ratty wigs and pumpkin carving tools out from last year and bask in the spookiness.

Everyone loves to dress-up for Halloween, whether it be a full-on scary look, a pair of bunny ears or general fancy dress. If you're lastminute.com and haven't got your costume sorted yet, Snap Inc. (famous parent company of one of our favourite apps Snapchat) have brought out a costume which is bound to come at least in the top 10 for 'Best Costume' this Halloween.


Yeah, seriously. From the famous augmented-reality filter on Snapchat, Snap Inc. have released a full-body Dancing Hot Dog tunic to throw on this Halloween, and we're not sure if it's brilliant or ridiculous.

The costume is a 2 piece, with detachable hands and a slit by the head in case it gets a bit stuffy in there (which it inevitably would). I'm not sure on what visibility would be like with the costume on, as I can't see any eye-holes but I imagine you'd already be stumbling around from the alcohol-heavy party-punch, so the limited visibility will be so worth it and you might not even realise the difference too much - win-win!

Unfortunately, as it says in my screenshot above, it doesn't ship to the UK, but does to the US. The costume is available on Amazon for a (rather hefty if you ask me) $79.99, but at least the shipping's free, right? If you're big on Halloween, a Snapchat fan and are happy to dish out nearly $80 on the holiday, then go for it. 

If I haven't convinced you yet, these Amazon reviews of the costume should do the trick...


Your only challenge now is to master the moves, and you'll be the best-dressed, hip-hop dancing hot-dog at the party.

Social media has, since its initial conception, quickly and successfully cemented itself a position in modern culture, fundamentally changing many aspects of our daily lives for better or for worse, depending on who you ask. Drinking is also long established in British culture in particular, and psychologists are now beginning to wonder if there may be a link between the two.

Leading the charge in this regard is University of Houston psychologist Mai-Ly Steers, who is hoping to make use of a $251,010 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study in-depth any apparent correlation between the alcohol consumption of students in the US and their social media posts. The research is already underway, with funding expected to continue over the next five years.

Steers was inspired to embark upon the research project by Clayton Neighbors, director of the social psychology program at the University of Houston and a keen researcher of alcohol and drinking norms. Working alongside Neighbors and additional researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Palo Alto University, the aim of Steers’ research is two-fold; to measure how often students post about alcohol on social media, and understand what the average college student thinks about when they see these posts.

This data will then by analysed alongside feedback from the students themselves regarding their drinking habits, as well as what students consider to be the average amount of consumption and the norms related to how often people post alcohol-related content to social media. The hope is that when combined, these datasets will help to illuminate any truth to the supposed correlation between social media and alcohol consumption.

Steers herself is firmly under the impression that such a correlation does exist, stating that, “The research has found that heavy-drinking students typically overestimate how much others drink relative to what they drink. That is, they think they drink at or a little below the norm.

“There is a large body of literature which supports that the more a student posts about alcohol-related posts, the more likely they are to drink more and the more likely they are to experience alcohol-related problems.”

So what is the driving force behind this supposed uptick in alcohol consumption? According to Steers, it all boils down to peer-pressure. Steers believes that positive feedback to drinking-related posts may encourage the continuation of such behaviours as it is established in students’ minds as the norm, and it would appear that she is not alone in this school of thought.

“I think social media has a major effect on alcohol consumption,” said exploratory studies freshman Daniella Acosta. “As college students on social media, we tend to see a lot of drinking and partying on Instagram, Snapchat, et cetera, so I think this influences us a lot more to drink.”

Also backing Steers’ argument is biochemistry senior Akash Ramesh, who asserted, “I think there is some sort of correlation, because by psychology, there’s always the feeling of peer pressure. Although in the case of social media it’s not direct, it is a passive way of promoting it since there are a lot of underage kids drinking. It makes people feel that if they’re doing it, then it’s probably OK for me to do it.”

This echo-chamber effect is only exaggerated further by the confines of many social media platforms, in which individuals connect directly with groups of like-minded people who only serve to reinforce these potentially-damaging ideas.

However some, such as creative writing junior Gabriela Torres, have expressed doubts over the validity of Steers’ claim that social media heightens alcohol consumption among students.

Ms Torres said of the research, “I personally am an underage drinker, but my drinking has nothing to do with what I see on the Internet, not inherently. It’s just a fact that my peers drink and post about it. They just happen to occur at the same time. It’s like if there is drinking, there are posts of them drinking.”

Others argue that rather than encouraging college students to drink, social media may in fact dissuade many from engaging in heavy drinking lest they end up at the centre of online embarrassment or shaming (let’s face it; none of us are at our finest when drunk). We reported on this phenomenon a couple years back following the publication of a survey conducted in conjunction with the Enjoy Heineken Responsibly Campaign, which revealed that of 5,000 people surveyed, 1 in 3 cited the prospect of social shaming via online platforms as a primary motivator to drink a little less.

So, what are your thoughts on the relationship between social media and alcohol consumption, and how do the assertions of the researchers compare to your own experiences? Let us know in the comments below.

Today, Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp have introduced real-time location sharing, which they've dubbed 'Live Location'. With the feature being available on Facebook Messenger and Snapchat, it seems like a popular move, as knowing friends and family's whereabouts is clearly something social-media users want.

So, how does it work? In any chat, whether it be a group chat or one-on-one, you can share your location with the tap of a button, and everyone else in that chat will view your location in a window within the chat. This window can then be enlarged by clicking on it, and you're able to move the map about to see what's close by and how far away somebody is from you, for example. You can also change the map from Satellite to Terrain, depending on your preference, and traffic alerts are also available to view too.

When sharing their live location, users can set a time limit on how long they'd like to share their location for; a one-time share, 15 minutes, one hour or eight hours. The app's Product Manager, Zafir Khan, says that they chose these time-frame options based on common scenarios in which WhatsAppers would use the feature;  meeting up with friends, letting loved ones know you're safe, or sharing your commute etc. If you're wanting to share for a different time to those, you can manually stop sharing at any time.

For privacy and security, you can view who you're sharing your location with at a time on your Account Privacy settings, just in case you lose track or forget to stop sharing when unnecessary.

The map feature is easily comparative to SnapMaps, with circle icons of users' profile pictures instead of the Bitmoji's used on Snapchat, and the copy-cat culture seems to be on-going with social media platforms bringing out different versions of the same features.

WhatsApp is arguably safer for location-sharing than Messenger and Snapchat due to it being end-to-end encrypted, and so may be more popular for those worried about their safety when sharing their location on social media.

WhatsApp conclude their blog post announcing Live Location with the following:

"Live Location is available on both Android and iPhone and will be rolling out in the app in the coming weeks. We hope you like it."

App-developers either succeed with their creations, or they don't. Small Oakland company Midnight Labs have trialled and tested 14 apps over the past five years which unfortunately failed, but now, they've struck it well-and-truly 15th-time-lucky with tbh, which was launched in August.

Since it's launch just nine weeks ago, the positivity polling-app aimed at teens has hit an astonishing 5 million downloads across the US states it's available in; as it's such a small app, it's still being rolled out and is currently available in a select number of states after starting in a Georgia high school.

tbh's slogan is 'see who likes you' and it's aim is to remove the competitive , rivalrous and mental-health-damaging material which is present on other social media platforms.The poll questions are decided by the app, (but can also be submitted by users) and are all positive and complimentary such as 'most likely to become famous', 'who has the best smile?' and 'hope we stay in touch after Graduation'.

Users vote on the polls anonymously and the multiple choice answers are your friends, synced from your contacts, and whoever you choose has the best smile for example, gets notified, making them feel good about themselves; compliments all round!

The app has taken off in high-schools across the states, and none-other-than Facebook acquired it earlier this week. The figure isn't confirmed, but its rumoured to be less than $100 million.

The four co-creators of tbh, Bier, Erik Hazzard, Kyle Zaragoza and Nicolas Ducdodon, will become Facebook employees and work in-house with the company at the Menlo Park headquarters - unlike Instagram and WhatsApp who operate seperately but still under Facebook.

tbh's post, announcing their 'new home', reads as follows:

"When we met with Facebook, we realized that we shared many of the same core values about connecting people through positive interactions. Most of all, we were compelled by the ways they could help us realize tbh’s vision and bring it to more people.

"Going forward, your experience on tbh won’t change and we’ll continue to build the features you love—now with plenty more resources."

The app is currently only available in a number of states and on iOS only, but it's set to expand further across the US and onto Android devices too.

As far as parent-companies go, Facebook's up there with the best with the ability to provide funding, engineering expertise, and expansion; tbh is set for a bright future.

If you're an iPhone user, look away now, as you'll read how great Messenger Lite is and find out that - spoiler alert- it's only available on Android. I know, it sucks; I went to download it on my iPhone 6S to try it out for this article, and was saddened to see it wasn't available on the App store. However, for all you lucky Android users, here's the low-down on Messenger Lite.

Like Facebook Lite (also only available on Android), Messenger Lite is a lightweight, stripped-back version of the standard Messenger app. It's for those who live in areas with poor mobile data services (2G networks), such as rural areas or developing countries with less advanced internet connectivity. The whole idea of the 'Lite' versions of the app is to make Facebook accessible to all, whether they're in a Wi-Fi-rich city or less-connected rural area.

So, what features are on Messenger Lite?

On Lite, you can message anyone on Facebook like the standard version, including group chats. You can still call your contacts over Wi-Fi, send photos, voice notes, thumbs up and stickers (they just won't be animated).

The only things you can't do on Lite is play games, send GIFs, video chat and use the extra extensions like the Apple Music one we talked about last week. If you're not fussed about these features, then download Lite; taking away these fancier features means the size of the app is around 10 times smaller than the original Messenger at just 10MB, being great at saving your valuable phone storage.

The smaller size, which takes up less data, also uses up less battery meaning the the background data and battery normally eaten up by GIFs, stickers etc.on regular Messenger is saved on the Lite version.

Since it's launch in October last year, the Install figure on the Google Play Store sits at 50,000,000 to 100,000,000, so it's clearly proving popular for it's users.

So, if you're in a location with lower-connectivity or simply want a stripped-back, battery-saving version of Messenger, get downloading!

While the internet is pretty revolutionary; connecting with friends, learning new things and just about everything else in-between is easy as PI, it's also a very dangerous place - especially for children. Harmful, inappropriate and explicit material is easily accessible on the internet and can be exposed to younger members of society with the click of a button, which could then lead to further issues such as poor mental health, crime and bullying.

It's no secret that the rise of social media and technology has brought with it the unfortunate rise of cyber-bullying, with the ability to bully and manipulate easy and the psychological effects powerful. As children's charity the NSPCC reports, 1 in 4 children have seen something upsetting online, and 1 in 3 have been a victim of cyber-bullying.

With these shocking statistics, it's unsurprising that the fight against online-abuse is ongoing, and news broke this week that social media-giant Facebook is next in line to do their bit. Facebook are investing a whopping £1 million to help pupils in the UK's 4,500 secondary schools to become "digital safety ambassadors" - trained to recognise and counter online abuse and cyber-bullying.

With Facebook being a leader in the social-media game, it's likely that their influence will be huge; they say they're hoping to train students in every UK school, resulting in tens of thousands of educated and cyber-aware pupils. The training will be through UK youth charities, which Facebook is funding to carry out informative, classroom teaching.

Facebook's head of safety, Antigone Davis comments, "Over the last decade, we have developed a wealth of innovative resources on Facebook that enable young people to look after themselves and their peers, from our updated Safety Centre, to our online reporting tools. By offering trained digital safety ambassadors to every UK secondary school we are now taking this commitment offline too."

One of the most beloved aspects of social media today is the manner in which it allows fans to connect with their favourite celebrities and public figures, interacting with their idols in a way which was simply not possible for earlier generations. Countless apps and platforms now exist which enable you to do just this, whether that be the micro-blogging melting-pot that is Twitter, the global behemoth by the name of Facebook, or the image-conscious world of Instagram. This begs the question; why would you feel the need to force your fans off of the networks they know and love and opt to only offer such content on your own exclusive platform?

Perhaps we should pose this question to Taylor Swift, as she has just partnered with mobile-entertainment company Glu – best known for celebrity-themed mobile apps such as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Nicki Minaj: The Empire – to launch a brand new social app by the name of The Swift Life.

Glu CEO Nick Earl referred to the app as “a new digital entertainment project,” and “a deeply social environment,” however to me The Swift Life basically seems like a rather generic social app, with design elements borrowed heavily from existing platforms such as Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook, designed solely with the intent of fuelling Ms Swift’s ego and likely grabbing some extra cash from her fans in the process.

That being said, the app does come with a few features that may be of interest to the artist’s die-hard fans. Alongside the standard sharing and liking functionality we expect of all apps of this nature, users will also be able to view “exclusive” photos and other Taylor-themed content, all while engaging directly with the star herself via likes and comments. The app also incorporates a set of emoji stickers bearing the cringe-inducing name of “Taymojis”, as well as a fully-integrated music player loaded up with all of Taylor’s best known tracks and latest releases, with new songs reportedly being added each week.

You can view the app’s announcement video, posted to Taylor Swift’s YouTube channel, below:

Returning full circle to my initial complaint regarding the app however; why could this same content not have been offered through existing and established platforms, on which Taylor has already amassed an impressive following?

The answer likely boils down to finances. Taylor has proven herself to be a shrewd businesswoman, and likely recognises the potential gains to be made by launching an app such as this. For one, she has more than enough of a following to ensure a consistent active user base which will help to draw in substantial figures via advertising revenue. Also, given Glu’s track record of releasing free-to-download apps loaded up with in-app purchasing options, some form of paywall will likely be included in the app, restricting the most sought-after content to those willing to part will their hard-earned cash.

I sincerely hope I am proven wrong in my assessment and The Swift Life turns out to be more than a shameless cash-grab at the expense of the star’s fans, but we will have to wait for the app’s beta launch, scheduled for late 2017, before we know for sure.

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