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Social Media: Great Power Must Come with Even Greater Accountability

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Social Media Great Power Must Come with Even Greater Accountability

Social media plays an irreplaceable role in the modern world, but there are two sides to every coin. Billions of people benefit through its ability to connect society, enable e-commerce, and advance communication. Unfortunately, social media also allows for proliferation of abuse, extremism, and violence. The data tell us that if we don’t effectively resolve this issue, we invite ongoing injustices.

Studies show that 41% of people are harassed online, 66% witness online harassment, and nearly 1 in 5 experience online violence and threats. Pew adds, “Social media platforms are an especially fertile ground for online harassment.” In 2018, I received a death threat online that eventually led to the prosecution and conviction of the extremist who threatened to kill me for my faith. I reported the threat to Twitter, who suspended, then unsuspended my attacker’s account. Despite earlier acknowledging his death threat, twitter’s re-activation of his account enabled him to send me further death threats. His death threat was so grotesque, in fact, that the federal government convicted him of breaking federal law after I testified against him in federal court in December 2019. It should not require federal courts to intervene to stop online death threats.

Facebook has acknowledged that Myanmar used their platform to spread deadly misinformation that led to violence against the Rohingya — actions that the United Nations has labelled as genocide. Facebook likewise played a major role in political elections, arguably even tipping the scale in favour of apparently preferred candidates. Twitter made progress when they rightly jumped into action to ban Daesh and other accounts of terrorists, in total banning over 1.2 million terrorist accounts. However, Twitter is slow to ban white supremacists and neo-Nazis because reportedly the algorithm would inadvertently ban certain mainstream politicians as well.

We have also seen success when social media companies begin to root out the root causes of misinformation. When social media companies ultimately banned the former President of the United States, misinformation dropped 73% almost overnight. This is a critical and commendable step because it upheld truth above profits and clicks. But, critics argue, isn’t this censorship? Why not debate in the marketplace of ideas? These questions, though well-intentioned, conflate tolerance of a difference of opinion or belief with malicious misinformation designed to create chaos and disorder.

Philosopher Karl Popper taught that tolerance of intolerance leads to more intolerance. In other words, tolerating calls to violence and terrorism enables more violence and terrorism. For example, how can we possibly compromise with the neo Nazis and white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us,” or believe Black people and people of colour in general should be segregated? These violent acts aren’t opinions to be debated so how can we tolerate them? The answer is quite simply; we should not, as doing so risks self destruction as well. Whitewashing injustices threatens our very existence.

Social media companies have a responsibility to uphold justice and fairness. That does not mean they need to take a position on whose opinion is correct. It does mean, however, that they do not tolerate incitement that enables insurrection, hate crimes, or even genocide. Part of the campaign to diminish the influence of Daesh terrorism involved social media companies refusing to give them a platform, and social media companies should be commended for this. Preventing such violent rhetoric isn’t censorship. On the contrary, it ensures an actual and meaningful free exchange in that marketplace of ideas, allowing the best idea to win on merit and justice, not force.

Social media is a tool that can be used for good or bad. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide make an honest and productive livelihood because of the access provided by social media. Others, unfortunately, use social media as a means to harm others. Social media companies can better ensure national security, free public exchange, and economic vitality by acting with justice to prevent extremists from hijacking their platforms. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then democratically elected representatives of the people must fulfil their elected obligations of ensuring domestic tranquillity and general welfare. With this, they must also regulate social media companies for the good of national progress. Indeed, let it not be that in the name of free speech the world is destroyed. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and former candidate for US Congress. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.

Daily Brief

SumOfUs’s Researcher’s Avatar Sexually Assaulted in Horizon World’s Game

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Brelyon metaverse desk scaled
  • In Meta’s virtual reality platform, Horizon Worlds, the avatar of a 21-year old SumOfUs researcher was sexually assaulted. 
  • Meta confirms that it has set up safety tools in Horizon Worlds in order to prevent negative experiences, especially since there were earlier reports of virtual assaults and inappropriate behavior in February. 
  • One of the safeguards introduced was Personal Boundary, which prevents any avatars from coming within a set distance of 4 feet of each other in order to respect the avatar’s personal space. The company also offers other ways in order to block and report users as well.
  • Nevertheless, SumOfUS reported that the researcher was “encouraged” to disable the Personal Boundary feature, and was approached by 2 male avatars in a room, one of whom was observing and the other got fairly close to her. She also witnessed lewd comments, homophobic slurs, and virtual gun violence. 
  • SumOfUs has filed a resolution with some of the shareholders, requesting a risk assessment of the human rights impacts in the metaverse. A shareholder meeting is set to be held on Wednesday. 
  • SumOfUs’s campaigns director Vicky Wyatt stated, “Let’s not repeat and replicate [real-world issues] in the metaverse. We need a better plan here on how to mitigate online harms in the metaverse”.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Politics

Digital Authoritarianism – A Growing Challenge to The World Press Freedom

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Digital authoritarianism – a growing challenge to the world press freedom

Press and electronic media have been an active source of propagation of the discourse be it political, social, or religious. They make it easier for a piece of information to reach the common masses and thus it is crucial for the governments to control them to keep insuring the creation of “us” and “them” division in the society.  But this control has become a challenge for a free and independent press. Digital authoritarianism, cyber surveillance, and monitoring of political and social activities of people through media have made it difficult for the people of the present age and time to have freely expressed their opinion and easier for the governments to control the information.

While China has been controlling the influx of information and the regulation of ideologies in the country through a great fire, Other countries are joining in too with their measure to increase cyber-surveillance. Internet shutdowns are one of the tools for asserting digital authoritarianism and according to a survey conducted by a non-profit digital rights organization Access now, the year 2021 experienced 182 events of Internet shutdowns around the world.

The shutdowns measures were taken to contribute to the growing political tensions in the respective regions for example, during the coup in Maynmar, and to influence the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe, specifically Russia. Similarly, while Africa experienced an epidemic of coups in the year 2021, the number of internet shutdowns reached 19.

 India which claims to be the “world’s largest democracy” imposed an internet shutdown more than a hundred times in the year 2021 and more than half of them were on the already repressed people of Jammu and Kashmir.

While Russia became the only country in Europe to impose an internet shutdown in 2021, in the year 2022, the Russia and Ukraine war has forced other EU countries to ban the access to Russia Today, Sputnik other information sites regulated by Russia calling it a measure against “the war propaganda.” Similarly, since the beginning of the conflict, Russia has imposed new internet laws in the country to monitor the spread of news restricting the use of global applications like Instagram and Facebook.  

The more recent rerouting of the internet traffic of occupied Ukrainian regions to be redirected through Russian cyber routes. Netblocks, an internet observatory, noted that: “Connectivity on the network has been routed via Russia’s internet instead of Ukrainian telecoms infrastructure and is hence likely now subject to Russian internet regulations, surveillance, and censorship.”

However, while countries around the world are being exposed to exerting digital dominance, and being accused to collect user data for their own benefit, it is becoming a challenge for them to create “democracy-affirming technologies” to combat the digital authoritarianism that has been challenging the world’s press freedom around the world.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Society

Sexualized Child Images “Meet Community Guidelines” on Instagram

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Instagram Face

Instagram has come under a lot of heat, and rightly so, for not removing accounts that showed pictures of children in swimwear or partial clothing attracting loads of sexualized comments even after such accounts were reported via the in-app reporting tool. 

The above-mentioned tool allows users to flag accounts that have suspicious activity which is then reviewed by the system’s automated moderation technology, which in this case ruled such concerning accounts as “acceptable” and conforming to “community guidelines” resulting in such accounts remaining live.

An independent researcher challenged this and reported one such concerning account to Instagram using the in-app reporting tool, only to be met with a response tagged with a phrase many of us a too familiar with i.e., “due to the high volume of reports” submitted it can not view the report but the “(automated) technology has found that this account probably doesn’t go against our community guidelines”. The said account, with more than 33,000 followers remained live the whole day.

All this while Instagram’s parent company, Meta, as do other social media companies claims an approach that has zero tolerance towards child exploitation – claims that remain unsubstantiated by their actions/policies.

Instagram is not alone in failing to effectively handle this issue. Twitter has many similar accounts often known as “tribute pages”. This is evident from the example of this one account which was ruled not to be breaking twitter’s rules after being reported through the in-app reporting tool despite posting pictures of a man performing sexual acts with images of a 14-year-old TikTok underage influencer. Other tweets from the same account reading “looking to trade some younger stuff” were also seemingly not concerning enough, until it was publicly called out by a campaign group ‘Collective Shout’ at which point the account was taken down.

Should such accounts suspicious of illegal activity and clearly harmful be allowed to remain live only because they do not meet a criminal threshold, yet?

Are “Zero tolerance” claims consistent with companies allowing the content that is a threat to children to remain live despite being reported, let alone proactively moderate content?

Should the social media companies be relying on automated detections for preventing the serious risk of sexualization, harassment and exploitation of our children when such technologies have been known to have failed miserably for even keeping up with simple hate speech?

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Health

Tired of Carrying a Wallet? Have Your Credit Card Microchipped Under Your Skin

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Dr Mark Gasson has an RFID microchip implanted in his left hand by a surgeon March 16 2009 1 scaled

Walletmor, a British-Polish startup, claims to have created the first implantable microchip that can be used at any contactless payment machine around the world. Walletmor has sold over 500 microchips that are slightly bigger than a grain of rice and weigh less than one gram. Each microchip goes for £199 and can be sewn in by professionals at any aesthetics clinic. 

Walletmor claims that the microchip is entirely safe and has received regulatory approval. Once implanted, the microchip is ready to use and will not shift from its place. The microchip requires no batteries or an external power source to function. The implantable capsule is made of biocompatible material and consists of a microprocessor for storing encrypted payment data and a proximity antenna to connect to nearby payment terminals. 

The founder of Walletmor, Wojciech Paprota claims that the microchips are impossible to hack stating, “our payment implant cannot be forgotten or lost. This means that, unlike a standard payment card, it cannot end up in the wrong hands. It will not fall out of our wallet, and no one will take it from there. The implant cannot be scanned, photographed or hacked.” 

At the moment, the microchip connects to a mobile app called ICard, where a user can refill funds for contactless payments. 

Paprota believes that credit card implants will one day be as popular as regular payment cards and that Walletmor’s long-term goal is to provide more functionalities to their chip such as identification and key card access capabilities. 

But before microchip implants can be widely accepted, Paprota and other emerging microchip-based companies must first assure citizens of their safety. Though implanted microchips are convenient for day-to-day tasks, many fear that as technology continues to advance, a person’s data and specific location can potentially be hacked causing safety concerns. 

Nada Kakabadse, a Professor of Ethics at Reading University questioned the ethics behind getting microchips implanted. Kakabadse stated, “there is a dark side to the technology that has a potential for abuse…to those with no love of individual freedom, it opens up seductive new vistas for control, manipulation and oppression.. And who owns the data? Who has access to the data? And, is it ethical to chip people like we do pets?”

So the question arises, how much are we willing to risk for the sake of convenience?

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Born and raised in the Bay Area, California, Faiza is a mother of two with a degree in Psychology and Paralegal Studies. She is passionate about lending her voice to those who are disadvantaged.

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Tech

Elon Musk is now the largest shareholder in Twitter

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Screenshot 2022 04 05 at 23.09.00
Heisenberg Media via Wikimedia Commons

Tesla founder Elon Musk has become the largest shareholder in Twitter. His shares are four times greater than that of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

Elon Musk has purchased 9.2% shares equating 73.5 million shares in the social network. His shares are a passive stake but news that he has become the largest shareholder in the company caused a surge in Twitter share price. His stake is now worth more than $3bn.

Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter, tweeted on Tuesday “I’m excited to share that we’re appointing @elonmusk to our board! Through conversations with Elon in recent weeks, it became clear to us that he would bring great value to our Board.”

Elon is running a poll on twitter about the edit button, which will be helpful for twitter users to edit mistakes but some, including Jack Dorsey, have rejected the idea because people can change the meaning of what they have said, after they have shared it. 

Dan Ives, from analyst firm Wedbush said that Elon will soon go for an active role in company management. 

He said, “We would expect this passive stake as just the start of broader conversations with the Twitter board/management that could ultimately lead to an active stake and a potential more aggressive ownership role of Twitter,”.

This is supported by the reports of the Wall Street Journal that his application to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which should have a line saying he doesn’t intend to influence the company, had a ‘Not Applicable’ mark.

There is an issue reported about his investment in twitter. He filed his investment on 14th of March and after filing and before it became public knowledge, he asked users whether they believed that free speech was essential to a functioning democracy and whether Twitter adheres to this principle.

Cornell University’s assistant professor Alexandra Cirone considers this as an evidence he may “try to influence Twitter practices” and have a “more active play in the social media eco-system”.

On the other hand, Howard Fischer, partner at law firm Moses & Singer, said that considering he had bought the share already, “I do suspect the SEC is going to look long and hard into whether they can bring manipulation charges”. 

Elon Musk is a regular user of twitter, whether he uses his influence to establish free speech or market manipulation, twitter users will find out soon. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Society

Is Technology Making Children Grow Up Faster?

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Technology
  • Research has found that children’s exposure to technology may allow for them to be more intellectually savvy at a younger age, however it is seen to also push ‘maturity’ milestones to an older age.
  • Despite this supposed maturity, the younger generations seem to delay many adult milestones such as dating, drinking, engaging in intimate relations, and driving unlike previous generations.
  • With all things kept in mind, studies find that children are not growing up faster in terms of society, culture, or biology. 

Research has found that children’s exposure to technology may allow for them to be more intellectually savvy at a younger age, however it is seen to also push ‘maturity’ milestones to an older age. The advent of smartphones, tablets, and other such electronics has put the world’s knowledge into the palms of children at a younger age than ever seen before. With most parents buying their child a smartphone at age 10, it is no question that the newer generation has practically unlimited access to news, social media, games, and the like.

Marketing geared towards kids is not new and the concept of “kids getting older younger” (KGOY) is one used by companies constantly to raise revenues. Games such as Roblox have capitalized on such ideas and the effects are clear. Speaking to strangers and having open access to the internet is pulling children towards emotional maturity. 

Despite this supposed maturity, the younger generation seems to delay in many adult milestones such as dating, drinking, engaging in intimate relations, and driving, unlike previous generations. any experts argue that this view is skewed, including senior Vice President and Director of the Center for Children and Technology, Shelley Pasnik. Pasnik stated “The basic stages of children’s development aren’t changing…what has changed is [kids’] exposure to information.” 

Experts in sociology also warn that technology alone is not shaping children and their maturity. Confounding variables found in much more intensive parenting styles will also reflect on the youth. With all things kept in mind studies find that children are not growing up faster in terms of society, culture, or biology. Rather a view of what constitutes a ‘grown-up’ may be skewed in society. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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