In little more than a decade, the role of social media has gone from that of entertainment to a fully nonsegregated part of our daily life. Social media is a computer-based technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities. By design, social media is Internet-based and gives its users quick electronic communication of content which includes personal information, videos, and pictures. People utilise the media via a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Once you are on a website, it swiftly takes you to another trendy site with no prior warning.
Common social networking sites include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tiktok, Snapchat, Instagram and much more. Three billion people, around 40% of the world’s population, use online social media – spending an average of six hours every day sharing, liking, tweeting and updating on these platforms, according to some reports. Information is so rapidly shared online that statistics show that half a million tweets and Snapchat photos are shared every minute. This is an unbelievable amount of information for one person to consume so quickly.
Social media is very successful when it comes to the economy. It contributes to business in large amounts and that is what makes it so ‘trendy’ for the young generation. It has evolved from being a concept catered to teens to all kinds of people; a form of communication tied with many other aspects of entertainment. The reality is, it has impacted many people in a largely negative way.
People use social media to vent about everything from their employment search to politics, but the drawback to this is that our feeds often resemble an endless stream of stress. In 2015, researchers at the Pew Research Center based in Washington, DC sought to find out if social media induces more stress than it relieves. In the survey of 1,800 people, women reported being more stressed than men. Twitter was found to be a “significant contributor” because it increased their awareness of other people’s stress.
Another drawback is that families used to spend more time together but now society seems to be surrounded by artificial gadget lighting all day and night. Research has found that this can inhibit the body’s production of the hormone melatonin, which facilitates sleep. Furthermore, blue light, which is emitted by smartphone and laptop screens, is said to be the worst culprit when it comes to sleep. In other words, if you lie on the pillow at night checking Facebook and Twitter, you’re headed for restless sleep.
The Internet consumes our energy to the point that it starts to affect us mentally. Although, one can find National Geographic videos, cooking tutorials and funny posts on the Internet, it is also filled with content harming us. This is seen throughout the content that may support dysmorphia, eating disorders, depression and even promote racist or sexist ideas.
One study from the University of Pittsburgh stated that the people who spend more time on social media have more than twice the risk of having an eating disorder or body image concerns compared to their peers. The author states in the article, “through the Internet, we have created a generation of people who are fragile and suffer from or exhibit a higher rate of mental health issues.” In another study from the University of Nevada, Reno, it is shown that 20% of people who have at least one account of social media feel anxious to check it often because they fear they will “miss out”. Mental illness, from the same study, concludes to have such a strong correlation to social media that there is a separate health issue called “social media anxiety disorder”.
This shows when people have a tool within their reach to look at others and their posts in the media, they begin to compare themselves. The media makes individuals feel like they’re not enough, both physically and in capacity. Especially in this generation in which the internet has been developed, we have seen the highest depression rates against other eras.
Expanding on the topic of mental health, a majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying, name calling or harassment online. At the same time, teens mostly think teachers, social media companies and politicians are failing at addressing these issues. A study looking at cyberbullying and its impact on young people’s emotional health and self-esteem stated that cyberbullying has the potential to negatively impact the victim’s confidence, academic relations and mental wellbeing. The self-reported effects of cyberbullying included school grades being lowered, and feelings of sadness, anger, fear, worry and depression. According to the study, cyberbullying could lead to self-harm and the introduction of suicidal thoughts. These findings demonstrate that cyberbullying is a serious problem, the consequences of which can be dramatic.
Cyberbullying takes place predominantly on social media platforms – whether they be games or comments on a post. The vulgar and violent verbal abuse that takes place online is much worse since people have the ability to be anonymous. Rude and impolite verbal statements are difficult to forget and leave a mark on your heart – and when this happens, individuals tend to take it personally. This strikes with their self-esteem and confidence while increasing depression and in some extreme cases, presenting suicidal thoughts. All in all, based on the reports from the varying studies, a conclusion can surely be drawn that social media has an extensive effect on one’s confidence, image and eventually mental health.
Kiwi Farms: Far right extremist website blocked over harassment
Kiwi Farms, an internet forum that facilitates online discussion and harassment particularly of neurodiverse and trans personalities, came under scrutiny for doxing people.
Earlier this month Kiwi Farms, an internet forum that facilitates online discussion and harassment particularly of neurodiverse and trans personalities, came under scrutiny for doxing people. Notably it targeted a trans Twitch streamer, Clara Sorrenti who as a result had to flee the country. At first, the content delivery network Cloudflare, refused to stop providing its services. However, after a while, on 3rd September Cloudflare stopped protecting the website.
Sorrenti was just one of the victims of this far-right website that caused at least three suicides. Kiwi Farms was launched in 2009 as CWCki dedicated to referencing the online presence of Christine Weston Chandler aka Chris Chan aka Sonichu. It officially changed its name in 2015 and soon gained a lot of popularity. The format of the website is simple – identify a victim, label them a “lolcow” – an online slang term for someone who can be exploited and made fun out of – and then stalk them to the point of harassment.
Some recent victims of the trolling website:
The far-right Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene became a target of this website when she became a victim of a swatting incident. In this, a fake call was made to the authorities to bring them to her house in August of this year.
A caller connected to Kiwi Farms called police officers and told them that a man was shot five times in a bathtub at the address of Greene. According to the police report, the police later received a computer-generated call that stated she was targeted because of her stance on “transgender youth’s rights.”
In response, Greene stated: “There should be no business or any kind of service where you can target your enemy. That’s absolutely absurd.”
In late August, there was a bomb threat at the Boston Children’s Hospital after which they had to contact the authorities. The threat was anonymous but luckily no bomb was found. The hospital was attacked for providing gender-affirming hysterectomies to children. The bomb threat resulted after a week-long cyber-attack on the hospital as one statement read:
“(the hospital) has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls, and harassing emails including threats of violence toward our clinicians and staff. We are deeply concerned by these attacks on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”
Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC was also subjected to similar harassment for the same reasons. As a result, the hospital had to release a statement.
The Trevor Project’s Hotline is meant to help LGBTQ+ kids who are battling suicidal thoughts. The users of Kiwi Farms tried to clog up the hotline with fake calls in late August so that the real kids could not access it. They failed to succeed but the Kiwi Farms website was filled with users proud of what they had done.
The most recent victim was Clare Sorrenti who opened the door to a barrel of a gun pointing at her face on September 5th. The police were called to her house by Kiwi Farm users in a swatting incident after months-long harassment.
She was accused of sending violent emails to local politicians which led to her being arrested temporarily. As a result, she and her fiancé moved to a local hotel only to be doxed again after the users found the hotel by a picture that she posted of her cat sitting on the bed.
Realizing the severity of the situation, she moved to Northern Island to evade the stalking and harassment. However, the users again found her in no time and hacked her family members’ mobile phones. This stalking was made worse because she fought back instead of backing down and crowdfunded around $100,000 to “seek justice and make sure something like this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
She also created a trending Twitter hashtag “#DropKiwiFarms” which was joined by her fans as well as the Anti-Defamation League.
Interference of Cloudflare
Cloudflare is a company that provides security by warding off DDoS attacks and keeping hackers at bay. The company has been under scrutiny for protecting Kiwi Farms but this is not the only controversial website they provided security to. The company also protected the Daily Stormer and 8chan, both websites that were closed down.
Without Cloudflare, the website could be attacked by hackers and shut down before it leads to a bigger incident. The company refused to stop providing services to this controversial website by stating:
“Just as the telephone company doesn’t terminate your line if you say awful, racist, bigoted things, we have concluded in consultation with politicians, policymakers, and experts that turning off security services because we think what you publish is despicable is the wrong policy.”
A while later, on September 4th, the company did decide to terminate its services to Kiwi Farms for “unprecedented emergency and immediate threat to human life”.
However, similar sites that are dedicated to doxing people still exist such as The Lolcow.farm imageboard which has been around since at least 2014, and the Pretty Ugly Little Liar forum which started in 2015 and still exists.
Google Fires Blake Lemoine for Making Public Claims Regarding AI Technology ￼
- Recently, Google fired Blake Lemoine, a software engineer for Google, who claimed that Lamda had a sentient mind.
- Google along with many AI experts denied his claims and public speeches, stating that he violated employment and security policies.
- Blake started making headlines about how Lamda, one of Google’s chat boxes, began displaying human-like awareness through holding conversations on subjective matters
- Many AI engineers made these public claims before Mr. Lemoine, proposing their theory that AI technology is becoming more sentient.
SumOfUs’s Researcher’s Avatar Sexually Assaulted in Horizon World’s Game
- 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”.
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.
Sexualized Child Images “Meet Community Guidelines” on Instagram
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?
Tired of Carrying a Wallet? Have Your Credit Card Microchipped Under Your Skin
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?
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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